Two U.S. Coast Guard cutters cleared ice in the Kennebec River up to Gardiner on Thursday, and a third went nearly that far, in the latest attempt to ward against flooding on the river.

The 65-foot icebreakers USCGC Shackle and USCGC Bridle worked their way up the river through Chops Point in Woolwich, according to a message from the Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency. The boats went past Richmond before breaking ice near the Pearl Harbor Remembrance Bridge in Gardiner amid increased flood concerns in central Maine.

A third 65-footer, the USCGC Tackle, was seen stopping short of downtown Gardiner.

A fourth vessel, measuring 140 feet in length, was re-routed to the Penobscot River because officials said it wasn’t needed on the Kennebec.

More than 50 people watched from the Gardiner Landing and took photos while the two icebreakers imposed their will on the river, breaking off large chunks of thick ice that would float downriver with the tide.

When the two northernmost vessels were finished for the day, both tooted their horns and headed south as the onlookers waved and shouted words of appreciation.

“Thank you so much for the work,” Paul Anderson said. “You don’t know how important this is to so many people.”

Anderson spoke to crew members of the Bridle as it idled next to the boat landing before turning and picking up speed to break the ice. He said many people love the river and were affected by the sudden destructive flooding that happened in January in Augusta and Hallowell.

“I can imagine that it’s tedious work, but it’s important work,” Anderson said, “and it sure is fun to watch.”

Ann Wilson was at the water’s edge with her two young children, who, despite the cool temperature and some melting snow and standing water, were running around waving and cheering as the icebreakers did their work.

“This is one of those things you only experience living in Maine, so I wanted to make sure we got a chance to see it up close,” said Wilson, who recently relocated to central Maine from Nebraska for work. “There wasn’t a lot of ice breaking going on where we’re from, and there surely wasn’t any Coast Guard boats, because there’s no coast to guard in Nebraska.”

The Maine Emergency Management Agency last Thursday issued a request for ice breaking in the Kennebec and Penobscot rivers, following an unprecedented and unsuccessful midwinter ice-breaking effort in January.

Susan Faloon, spokeswoman for MEMA, said the decision to send a second request is based on the weather. A warm front pushing through the region last week brought record-breaking temperature to Maine, resulting in melting snow and ice. But the cold front that followed brought more seasonable weather, which will slow the rate of melting and cause some water to refreeze.

High temperature this week has been in the 40s, but a nor’easter is expected to hit New England on Friday and bring rain and wind with a chance for some snow — although forecasts suggest the worst may miss Maine.

Frigid temperature in December broke records when the daily highs hovered around zero across the region. The result on the Kennebec was a thick layer of ice, but a brief warm spell accompanied by rain in mid-January resulted river ice being broken and shifted downstream, creating the jam that sent freezing water into low-lying areas in Augusta and Hallowell.

Augusta officials closed the Front Street parking lot in that city as a precaution. In Hallowell, fast-rising water stranded a number of vehicles and flooded businesses on the river side of Water Street.

A series of flood watches and warnings issued in the days that followed kept riverfront communities in southern Kennebec County on edge.

In a bid to alleviate the jam, MEMA sent a request to the Coast Guard for ice breaking in January to open up the river below the ice jam.

Three 65-foot ice-breaking tugs and a 140-foot ice breaker tried for several days to break through the ice between Chops Point in Woolwich and Richmond; but the ice was too thick, and what they were breaking was not flowing downstream. After a week, the effort was suspended.

This second request comes closer to the Coast Guard’s usual ice-breaking operation which, depending on weather, generally takes place during March.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

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Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ