FORT KENT, Maine — When the rising waters of the Fish and St. John rivers threatened an entire business district of Fort Kent last spring, an army of municipal employees and volunteers stepped up to avert disaster.
The Greater Fort Kent Area Chamber of Commerce has chosen to collectively recognize those individuals at its annual banquet to be held Jan. 30 on the University of Maine at Fort Kent campus.
“We represent business and commerce within the community,” Chamber president Cheryl Harvey said. “If not for the efforts these people put forth, there would not be business or commerce on West Main Street.”
Record rains last spring came on the heels of the winter’s record snowfall, creating disastrous flood conditions that pushed the two rivers over their banks.
On the east side of town the rivers combined into one moving body of water, severely damaging residences, some businesses and the Catholic church.
Similar damage to the downtown area was prevented when municipal employees spent hours hauling tons of dirt and gravel and constructing an earthen berm near the Fish River Bridge to prevent the waters from flowing onto Main Street.
A permanent berm, constructed in the 1970s, protected the area from the St. John River.
“If that berm would have been breached, the business district would have been destroyed,” Harvey said. “A lot of businesses would have been lost forever.”
In the early days of the flood it was uncertain if that berm would hold, and emergency management workers teamed with municipal employees to evacuate homes and businesses.
“Thanks to their efforts everyone was moved safely,” Harvey said. “We thought it was miraculous no one died or was hurt.”
In all, 75 individuals are set to be honored with the special award, and they include employees and volunteers with the town, the Maine State Police, the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department, the Maine Forest Service, the Maine Warden Service, Border Patrol, the National Weather Service and emergency management workers.
“There were so many people from all over the state who came to help,” Harvey said. “We felt the annual Chamber banquet was the time to honor them.”
The Chamber also will announce and honor the Fort Kent Citizen of the Year at the banquet, which will feature Aroostook County Emergency Management Agency director Vern Ouellette as keynote speaker.
This year’s banquet begins at 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 30, at the UMFK Sports Complex. Tickets are available through the end of the day today.