Emergency officials eye coming snowstorm; state office closures likely

As Mainers prepare for what could be a record-breaking blizzard, state emergency officials are keeping close watch on an impending snowstorm that may dump up to two feet of snow on parts of Maine.

Legislative leaders have already canceled Tuesday’s sessions of the House and Senate, and if previous experience is any indication, it’s likely Gov. Paul LePage will likely close at least some state offices and tell all but the most critical state employees to stay home to wait out the storm.

The State House during a 2006 storm. BDN file photo by Bridget Brown.

The State House during a 2006 storm. BDN file photo by Bridget Brown.

LePage will make the decision after consulting with officials at the Maine Department of Transportation and the Maine Emergency Management Agency. There’s no meteorologist on state payroll, but the two agencies work closely with the National Weather Service stations in Gray and Caribou.

Ted Talbot, a spokesman for MDOT, said Monday that the state usually tries to wait until between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. the day of a storm to decide whether a closure is necessary. However, he said the expected size of the coming snowstorm means the decision will probably be made today.

MDOT, MEMA and the National Weather Service will hold a conference call at 1 p.m. Monday to discuss the most recent information and forecasts.

“You want the latest information, up to the latest time you can make [the decision],” Talbot said, but “you don’t want people on the roads if they don’t have to be.”

Lynette Miller, a spokeswoman for MEMA, said that while closing state offices is a big decision, the process for coming to an agreement is an “old-fashioned” one.

“It’s based on the practical decisions about safe transportation [and] what makes it easier for roads to be clear,” she said. “Our director [Bruce Fitzgerald] gets on the phone with various parties, including the weather service and DOT, to get a good picture of what to expect. … They put their heads together and decide what to recommend to the governor.”

If state offices do close, it doesn’t mean all state employees get the day off. While your local Bureau of Motor Vehicles office may be empty, “critical” employees in each branch of the bureaucracy will still have to report for duty (I’m working to find out how many employees that is).

In MDOT alone, more than 400 “snowfighters” are expected to be working as parts of plowing teams, Talbot said.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.