ROCKPORT — A fierce storm that battered the Midcoast just before Christmas left the town facing cleanup and damage costs of at least $250,000 — and maybe twice that figure.

“The December 23rd storm was one with tremendous impacts not only for our residents but also for town facilities,” Rockport Town Manager Jon Duke stated in a report to the Select Board on the storm’s aftermath and costs.

Rockport’s harbor and historic opera house were the hardest hit, although it took a while before the full extent of damage was determined. Like many other residents, Duke’s home was without power for several days.

Preliminary estimates put the damage total figure at more than $250,000, he said. But after further inspections of the opera house revealed a lot more damage, the figure climbed significantly.

The calm before the storm; this photo was taken just days before a storm wreaked havoc on Rockport’s new pier. Photo by Jack M. Foley

“I think $250,000 is a pretty low number at this point. Could it double? I think that is feasible,” Duke said. Between insurance and federal help, the cost should be covered, but it will take time, according to Duke.

“From our conversations with our insurers, we are very confident we will receive the full value of our damages but unfortunately it will be a lengthy process,” he said.

Town officials also will add the recent damage costs onto reimbursement requests to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. However, based on FEMA’s response to date to reimbursement requests from a more severe storm in October 2021, town officials are not expecting quick federal action on the latest requests.

Citing those languishing FEMA payouts, Duke reported to the Select Board on Jan. 9,  “While we have been able to gain approval of a pair of the projects from the Oct. 31, 2021, storm from FEMA, another 13 remain in limbo. We are working diligently with representatives from FEMA.”

Duke addressed the town’s frustrations in working with the federal agency in a Jan. 18  interview with The Camden Herald.

“I am incredulous that at this point, 15 months after the storm, that we still have not settled on a final figure for damages,” he said of the lack of progress in ongoing talks with FEMA. The working estimate is about $1.5 million in damages from the 2021 storm, according to Duke. More than half of that is for damages at three stream crossings, most notably at Robinson Drive, he said.

Duke described in his report to the Select Board the most serious damage from the December storm. At the Rockport Opera House, a power outage and flash freeze on Dec. 24  burst sprinkler lines. That caused so much water damage in the auditorium and the Parker room that the floors need replacement. Also, ceiling tiles and one of the cameras in the Parker Room were damaged, as was an auditorium speaker.

Duke reported the 30-year-old sprinkler system will be replaced with one immune to power outages and with management valves.

As a result of sprinkler damage, the opera house cannot be used for events without additional staff monitoring for fires, according to Duke. “We hope to have the sprinkler system back in service within the next couple of weeks, but the larger issues relating to the floors will require a lengthy installation,” he told Select Board members.

Duke said water had also soaked and ruined entire walls, necessitating ripping out and replacing sheetrock, baseboard and insulation.

At Rockport Harbor, the new pier took the brunt of the storm’s fury and had the most damage. “The massive waves and surge forced the decking of the pier above grade,” according to Duke. He added, “Insurance adjusters have visited the site and subsequent reviews have occurred with Prock Marine, who installed the new pier last spring, and Gartley & Dorsky to investigate the structural integrity of the pier itself.”

In addition to damaged pilings, the harbor also sustained “a series of deep sinkholes inside the bulkhead from the tremendous wash of water in and around the water’s edge,” Duke reported.

He finished his report by thanking to the Public Works Department “for their assistance in getting those holes filled in short order to ensure we could safely pull off the ‘Holiday on the Harbor’ event on New Year’s Eve.”

Powerful storm surges that rolled into the harbor Dec. 23 caused gaping sinkholes that public works crews were able to fill. Photo by Jack M. Foley