AUGUSTA — Coast Guard icebreakers will not be able to make their way up the Kennebec River until Wednesday at the earliest, emergency management officials learned during a meeting Friday.

The request for the icebreakers comes as downtown Augusta and Hallowell remain vulnerable to midwinter river flooding, caused by an ice jam last weekend that stranded many vehicles and sent icy water into businesses in low-lying areas.

Even as the National Weather Service canceled its flood warning for the Kennebec River on Friday, local officials and affected business owners remained wary of the potential for flooding to return, with the forecast calling for temperatures well above freezing this weekend.

During Friday morning’s meeting among the Coast Guard, the Maine Emergency Management Agency and the Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency, officials said the Coast Guard icebreaker that could come up the river would measure 140 feet in length, and a smaller, 65-foot vessel also might provide support, according to Chief Warrant Officer Robert Nichols of the Coast Guard’s Waterways Management Office.

The Coast Guard received a request Wednesday from MEMA to break out the ice on the Kennebec to ward against further flooding. The depth of the river and low height of the Pearl Harbor Remembrance Bridge linking Gardiner and Randolph 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.

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

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

The Coast Guard asked the U.S. Geological Survey to measure the thickness of the Kennebec River ice in Richmond, and a USGS official said the agency planned to do that Monday if the federal government remains open for business.

The USGS said the river is nearly 100 percent ice south of Gardiner and into Richmond. John Jensenius, a meteorologist with the weather service in Gray, said warm weather and potential rain are in the forecast for the next few days, but the weather shouldn’t pose a big problem.

“There will be some melting, but not as much as one might expect,” he said. “It’s not a case like we had last weekend, and we’re not expecting additional runoff from melting snow.”

At 3 p.m. Friday, the river level was below flood stage – 11.3 feet – and should remain there because of warmer temperature and drier air, which limits the amount of melting, Jensenius said.

Sean Goodwin, executive director of the Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency, said that while there is no guarantee that breaking up the ice south of Gardiner will loosen the ice jam, it will help.

Sometime early last Sunday morning, ice accumulated near Farmingdale and created a dam in the river, prompting fast-paced flooding in Hallowell and Augusta. The damage in Hallowell was worse, and several popular businesses on Water Street have been cleaning up and working to resume operations.

Jason Pafundi can be contacted at 621-5663 or at:

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