February 26, 2010

Smelt camp operators say they could face long layoff

MECHELE COOPER

— By

click image to enlarge

Staff photo by Andy Molloy CUT: Sonny Newton tells a caller Thursday that his smelt shacks are off the ice due to the imminent arrival of Coast Guard Cutters on the Kennebec River in Dresden.

click image to enlarge

Staff photo by Andy Molloy CUT: Sonny Newton tells a caller Thursday that his smelt shacks are off the ice due to the imminent arrival of Coast Guard Cutters on the Kennebec River in Dresden.

Additional Photos Below

Kennebec Journal

Sonny Newton may have to wait weeks to get his shacks back on the ice, once Coast Guard cutters plow past his smelt camp today.

''When those cutters come through here, they wipe you out,'' said Newton, who owns Sonny's Smelt Camp in Dresden. ''They make a big wake, just like out in the ocean, and that's going to break up all the ice right along the shore.''

Three Coast Guard vessels will break ice along the Kennebec River today, after a week in which heavy rains unlocked the frozen river and sent a massive ice jam downriver that flooded parts of Augusta, Hallowell and Gardiner.

The 140-foot Morro Bay will go from Bath to Richmond; two smaller cutters, the 65-foot Tackle and Bridle, will break ice from Richmond to Gardiner.

The ice breakers' mission is to create open water downstream to increase the flow of river water in case the mile-long ice jam -- now lodged off Farmingdale -- breaks free.

Jim Worthing, who owns a smelt camp in Randolph, said he doesn't expect to get his 80 shacks back on the ice until December.

''I'm losing money here,'' he said. ''This is my livelihood.''

But, he said, something must be done.

''If they don't get rid of this now, it's going to be bad,'' Worthing said. ''If it freezes up solid, we'll have a big problem. A lot of this ice is right on the bottom of the river in some places. The dam has been driving the ice under and under, and now it's froze right up.''

But Richard Beausoleil, director of the Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency, said the ice dam doesn't reach the bottom of the river. If it did, he said, there would be a ''flood of epic proportions.''

''The water is going underneath the ice,'' Beausoleil said Thursday. ''By opening up the river more downstream, it will increase the flow upstream. As the water passes underneath, it will eat away at that ice and increase the flow of the river, reducing flooding upstream.''

If the river refreezes, he said, the dam could be there for the rest of the winter.

''If it stays there all winter, we'll have to deal with it in the spring when things thaw out,'' he said. ''It's all up to Mother Nature. Man really has no options. All we can do is get out of its way.''

If the dam releases this winter and the chunks of ice move downriver and stop for any reason, he said, water could back up and flood riverbanks again.

''Then you'll have a very fast, very dangerous backup,'' he said. ''All of a sudden all these gallons of water will go to the sides. This is one of those things you absolutely cannot predict.''

Both Worthing and Newton said lower temperatures would mean smelters calling to get back on the ice.

The National Weather Service said wind chills could be as low as 15 below zero today and zero to 5 below Sunday.

Newton said he needs about 5 to 6 inches of hard ice before he can haul his shacks back out into service.

''Only if we have some good calm weather and around zero degrees three or four nights can we get ice,'' he said.

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors


Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Staff photo by Andy Molloy CUT: Sonny Newton tells a caller Thursday that his smelt shacks are off the ice due to the imminent arrival of Coast Guard Cutters on the Kennebec River in Dresden.

  


Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)