Local officials have one eye on the weather and the other on the ice.

Warm temperatures and a chance of rain later this week have placed renewed attention on the ice jam in the Kennebec River near Farmingdale and Gardiner.

On Monday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers arrived to help assess the melting ice jam and install sensors to alert officials of ice movement as other federal officials monitoring the river said the chance for additional flooding is “very low.”

But there is concern regarding this week’s forecast. The National Water Service is predicting a chance of precipitation from Tuesday through Saturday morning.

Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency Director Richard “Beau” Beausoleil said the river has opened in places, with a channel of water running along the Chelsea side of the disappearing dam.

That will increase the flow of water, he said, reducing the chance of ice backing up on top of the original dam.

“The (U.S. Geological Survey) is pretty confident that the jam would stay there a little bit longer,” Beausoleil said. “That’s what we’ve been telling people the last three weeks, but we don’t know what will happen.”

“Right now, the fact that the river has opened up from Augusta to north of the jam is a good thing,” he said. “The channel opening up, engineers are telling us, is what we want the river to do. Mother Nature’s cooperating so far, but we have to see what she has in store.”

After a significant rain storm that melted snow throughout Maine, an ice jam clogged the river Jan. 26 and sent water surging into the downtowns of Augusta and Hallowell. After being jarred loose, the ice reset further downriver in Farmingdale.

Gregory Stewart of the U.S. Geological Survey went onto the ice and installed two motion sensors on Monday.

He said the flood potential has been reduced, because the jam is dissipating. The ice is thin, he said, adding he wouldn’t be surprised if a channel opened all the way to Richmond.

“Water temperature is doing a number on the ice,” Stewart said. “There’s a possibility of rain, but the nice thing is that we know the strength of the ice will be almost gone by then. The chance of additional flooding is very low.”

Stewart said he will watch to see what happens with the weather forecast this week.

“We don’t want to see two or three inches of rain, but it could be snow,” he said. “Any kind of big system, our weather ears perk up and we pay attention to what’s going on. We’ll watch the storm as it develops. But everything is much better and there’s very little danger of the ice jam causing additional problems.”

Jim Mansfield, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, said parts of Maine could get 2 to 3 inches of precipitation.

“The models look like we’re in for a wet period and there is concern in that area in particular,” Mansfield said Monday. “Up in the Kennebec River area, they’ll be getting 3 inches as well. Not all of it will be in liquid form, which would act as a mechanism to break up the ice, some will be snow … But if we get that kind of rain, there is a concern of what effect it will have on the river. It would definitely be an issue.”

As the weather gets closer, he said, forecasters will have a better handle on the form of precipitation and its impact on rivers.

Beausoleil said the monitors put out Monday are hooked into the ice with a cord. If the ice moves, he said it will trip the detectors, which would alert a dispatcher, who would in turn notify him.

He said Verizon Wireless has donated 10 phones, which he has issued to local emergency managers and town officials along the river.

“When one of those monitors goes off, I would push a button and connect instantly to those people, and we would respond to make sure a dog running on the ice didn’t trip it, that the ice was actually moving,” Beausoleil said.

Mechele Cooper — 623-3811, ext. 408

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