The Kennebec River dropped just below flood level Thursday afternoon while businesses and residents in Hallowell and Augusta continued to recover and prepare for the possibility of more destructive flooding, while the U.S. Coast Guard considers a plan to break up the ice jam on the river.

Meteorologist Tom Hawley of the National Weather Service in Gray said the river was at 11.92 feet before 3 p.m., but he said it should climb above flood level and stay there for the next few days as long as the ice jam downstream remains. A flood warning remains in effect.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard received a request Wednesday from the Maine Emergency Management Agency to break out the ice on the Kennebec to ward against further flooding. The depth of the river and height of the bridge limit the Coast Guard’s ability to reach the ice jam, but it still could open up water downriver to improve the river flow, said Lt. Matthew Odom, chief of the Waterways Management Division in Northern New England.

A Coast Guard ice breaker cruises up the Kennebec River between Randolph and Gardiner during a training exercise in 2014. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

“We are working with our resource people to determine the logistics of relocating a larger ice breaker from another region in New England,” Odom said.

Two 65-foot ice breakers are active now on the Penobscot River near Bangor, but Odom said the Coast Guard usually uses a larger ice breaker on the Kennebec.

A conference call among the Coast Guard, MEMA and the Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency was scheduled for Friday morning to work out the logistics of the ice-breaker request.

As officials made those preparations, business owners were still repairing damages and hoping to avoid any more.

For Wayne Hyde, owner of the Hydeout at the Wharf, that meant painting tables on Thursday. Hyde and others have been cleaning, bleaching, painting as they get ready to reopen the bar sometime next week after it was flooded in the jam. Water-damaged insulation and sheet rock had to be torn high from the walls.

Sometime early Sunday morning, ice accumulated near Farmingdale and created a dam in the river. In the course of a few minutes the water rose about 8 feet in downtown Hallowell and Augusta. Basements were filled with icy water, and while no injuries were reported, there was damage to buildings and vehicles in both cities.

The damage was worse off in Hallowell, where people in low-lying areas were taken off guard as local and county officials failed to notice a flood warning that had been issued by the weather service and did not alert people beforehand. Previously, local officials have acted on such warnings by alerting people in low-lying areas.

The water level prompted the extension of a flood warning by the National Weather Service through Saturday this week and the continued closure of Front Street in Augusta and Front Street in Hallowell.

The weather service initially canceled the flood warning Wednesday morning because the river’s water had fallen below flood level, but the warning was re-issued after the water reversed course and began to rise. Since then, the level has continued to fluctuate.

Easy Street Lounge owner Bruce Mayo said his business, located in the basement of a building at the intersection on Water and Winthrop streets in Hallowell, said as soon as the ice broke Sunday morning, just after midninght Saturday, customers were cleared out of the bar, people who live in the building were told to move their cars, and the contents of the lounge were moved to higher ground. Water began creeping into the lounge around 4 a.m. Sunday, later than other places along Front Street, because the lounge is higher than the other establishments.

Mayo said he’s been cleaning out the space since Sunday — while battling the flu — and was excited to be re-opening the bar Thursday night. He said he’s lived on the river for 30 years, so he had a plan, but people who are new to Hallowell and living on Water Street need to be familiar with what could happen and have a plan.

“You can’t stop the water, but we saved the contents of a bar and about seven vehicles,” Mayo said.

Rachel Merriam lives on Water Street and was out of the state last weekend. She returned to Hallowell to find her vehicle affected by the rising water, encased in ice. She said she feels lucky because several friends pushed the vehicle to higher ground, and her insurance company has been helpful and easy to work with.

“They processed my claim the morning following the incident, towed the vehicle (Wednesday) and are covering the $30 per day toward a rental,” Merriam said. “The vehicle is now in the shop, and I’m awaiting word on whether it is a total loss or salvageable.”

City officials, including Chief Eric Nason, of the Hallowell Police Department, and City Manager Nate Rudy, spent time Wednesday morning warning businesses and residents along Water Street that the river was rising again. The city’s Public Works Department continued to work on removing ice from the area using bucket-loaders, and the street will remain closed indefinitely.

“We will persevere and certainly review (our plan) once the flood waters subside,” Rudy said. “For now, we’re focused on public safety.”

At its peak, the Kennebec River in Augusta surged above the 12-foot flood stage, reaching close to 20 feet, which is the third-highest crest on record in Augusta.

Hawley said the forecast this weekend calls for temperature in the mid-40s, but it will get below freezing at night, so there might not be additional flooding because of snowmelt. Heavy precipitation is in the forecast for Tuesday, including snow, sleet and rain, but the temperature won’t be nearly as high as when it rained last weekend.

“There can still be enough rain to get the water to come up and cause flooding behind the ice jam,” Hawley said.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

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Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ