Report aims at preparing for major flood

&quotThis is my favorite pair of shoes," said Adrienne Lamarre while looking for salvageable items in her apartment at Fort Kent Housing after the St. John River flooding Sunday. Lamarre, who is staying with a daughter in Eagle Lake, came to look through her belongings for a second day in a row Sunday. &quotI'm taking it a day at a time," she said. BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY BRIDGET BROWN
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"This is my favorite pair of shoes," said Adrienne Lamarre while looking for salvageable items in her apartment at Fort Kent Housing after the St. John River flooding Sunday. Lamarre, who is staying with a daughter in Eagle Lake, came to look through her belongings for a second day in a row Sunday. "I'm taking it a day at a time," she said. BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY BRIDGET BROWN
Posted April 20, 2010, at 8:54 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:30 a.m.
A resident of Fort Kent's East Main Street, Dave Soucy (above) expresses his concerns about remapping the town's flood plain during an open meeting with FEMA officials at the town office last week. While Soucy's home was damaged during the 2008 flood, he had questions about what remapping might mean to homeowners and businesses. &quotIt's so important for FEMA scientists to share their findings with us," said Soucy, &quotWe need to know."  BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY KATE COLLINS
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A resident of Fort Kent's East Main Street, Dave Soucy (above) expresses his concerns about remapping the town's flood plain during an open meeting with FEMA officials at the town office last week. While Soucy's home was damaged during the 2008 flood, he had questions about what remapping might mean to homeowners and businesses. "It's so important for FEMA scientists to share their findings with us," said Soucy, "We need to know." BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY KATE COLLINS
Donald Hodgson (left), his son, Donald, and their German shepherd, Rain, watch muddy floodwater travel past a dirt berm on West Main Street in Fort Kent near the Fish River Bridge. The Fort Kent Public Works Department constructed the berm to divert floodwater.  BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY JOHN CLARKE RUSS
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Donald Hodgson (left), his son, Donald, and their German shepherd, Rain, watch muddy floodwater travel past a dirt berm on West Main Street in Fort Kent near the Fish River Bridge. The Fort Kent Public Works Department constructed the berm to divert floodwater. BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY JOHN CLARKE RUSS
A confluence of flood water from the St. John River and Fish River inundated downtown Fort Kent in this April 30, 2008 file photo. BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY JOHN CLARKE RUSS
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A confluence of flood water from the St. John River and Fish River inundated downtown Fort Kent in this April 30, 2008 file photo. BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY JOHN CLARKE RUSS
FLOOD CLEANUP IN FORT KENT   Fort Kent resident Robin Levasseur (right) and a dozen others help clean up the home of Dean Brundy on Sunday after the Sint John River flooded. Brundy and his trhee children have lived in the home for seven years. BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY BRIDGET BROWN
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FLOOD CLEANUP IN FORT KENT Fort Kent resident Robin Levasseur (right) and a dozen others help clean up the home of Dean Brundy on Sunday after the Sint John River flooded. Brundy and his trhee children have lived in the home for seven years. BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY BRIDGET BROWN
Fort Kent Town Manager Don Guimond looks on as East Main Street resident Dave Soucy expresses his concerns during an open meeting with FEMA officials on April 14, 2009, at the town office.  FEMA is proposing to re-map the town, which sits on the banks of the St. John and Fish rivers and suffered severe damage during the spring flooding of 2008.  If the flood plane is expanded, more properties would be required to be covered by flood insurance, including parcels which have the potential to be developed by businesses. BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY KATE COLLINS
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Fort Kent Town Manager Don Guimond looks on as East Main Street resident Dave Soucy expresses his concerns during an open meeting with FEMA officials on April 14, 2009, at the town office. FEMA is proposing to re-map the town, which sits on the banks of the St. John and Fish rivers and suffered severe damage during the spring flooding of 2008. If the flood plane is expanded, more properties would be required to be covered by flood insurance, including parcels which have the potential to be developed by businesses. BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY KATE COLLINS
Part of Fort Kent, with St. Louis Catholic Church in the center, was flooded Wednesday when the Fish River spilled over its banks near the confluence with the St. John River (top left).  BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY JOHN CLARKE RUSS
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Part of Fort Kent, with St. Louis Catholic Church in the center, was flooded Wednesday when the Fish River spilled over its banks near the confluence with the St. John River (top left). BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY JOHN CLARKE RUSS
The St. John River laps the underside of the International Bridge at the border crossing which was closed in downtown Fort Kent Wednesday  April 30, 2008.   BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY JOHN CLARKE RUSS
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The St. John River laps the underside of the International Bridge at the border crossing which was closed in downtown Fort Kent Wednesday April 30, 2008. BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY JOHN CLARKE RUSS
Town Manager Donald Guimond [left] talks with Gov. John Baldacci during a tour of a Fort Kent Housing subdivision Thursday. The housing was devastated by last week's heavy flooding. BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY NICK SAMBIDES JR.
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Town Manager Donald Guimond [left] talks with Gov. John Baldacci during a tour of a Fort Kent Housing subdivision Thursday. The housing was devastated by last week's heavy flooding. BANGOR DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO BY NICK SAMBIDES JR.

FORT KENT, Maine — As the two-year anniversary of almost record-breaking spring flooding nears, the federal agency tasked with helping the affected area has released a study aimed at preparing for the next big flood.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency earlier this month released “Living Behind the Levee, Fort Kent, Maine: Knowing the Threat, Anticipating the Vulnerability” to the Town Council.

“As a result of [Hurricane] Katrina, FEMA noticed it needs to do more beyond a disaster to help communities get back on their feet,” said John Bannen, Fort Kent director of planning and economic development. “FEMA has looked at us and said we are at risk for a future flood, and we need to plan.”

The 100-page report, according to Bannen, covers what led up to the April 2008 flood, available resources and how to mitigate future flood risks.

In late April that year, 3 inches of rain came at the worst possible time and combined with melting snow to raise the St. John River 8.1 feet in less than 24 hours. By the evening of Wednesday, April 30, the river surged to 29.9 feet, well above the 25-foot flood stage.

Meanwhile, the Fish River, which was at 13.9 feet by Wednesday evening, crested at 14.6 feet by 2 a.m. Thursday. The previous record high for the Fish River was 12.4 feet, reached in 1979. With the flood stage at 11 feet, water was running over the Fish River Bridge on Main Street by noon Wednesday.

In reaction, town, state and federal officials closed roads, shut down the international bridge between Maine and New Brunswick and evacuated close to 600 people, including residents of a senior citizens housing complex.

As the Fish River overran its western bank near where it joins the St. John River, water began flowing into the West Main Street business district, taking an unobstructed route behind an earth and rock dike that protects the district from the St. John.

Municipal public works crews and local volunteers helped to create a berm to stem the flow, allowing several pumps to keep up with the water seeping through.

Over on East Main Street, the two rivers joined into one large body of moving water when the Fish River overran its banks across the road from the St. Louis Catholic Church and rushed into the St. John River.

With water pouring over a large part of East Main Street, a portion of West Main Street and down several residential roads, officials cast worried eyes to the 3-decade-old earthen dike constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers specifically to protect downtown Fort Kent from the St. John River.

When the floodwaters receded and the Fish and St. John returned to within their banks, left in their wake were tons of natural and man-made debris.

Responding during and in the days after the flood were municipal crews, FEMA, Maine Emergency Management Agency, Aroostook County Emergency Management, the Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

As bad as the damage was, Bannen said, it could have been far worse had the waters overrun the dike and flooded the downtown business district.

“We were lucky that time,” he said. “We may not be so lucky next time.”

According to the FEMA report, there will be a next time.

“Whether you agree with climate change or not, FEMA has reported weather-related events are getting more extensive over the years,” Bannen said. “What we saw in 2008 was a 100-year, or 1 percent flood.”

FEMA officials have reported that the upper St. John Valley could see a 500-year flood if certain climatological conditions occur.

Heavy spring rains, rapidly melting snow and a saturated snowpack could combine to create disastrous flooding.

“Part of Fort Kent’s comprehensive plan update will include hazard mitigation for flooding,” Bannen said. “This report will serve as a starting point for those discussions.”

Town-initiated events before 2008 — including relocating the municipal garage and sewage treatment plant away from flood zones — helped reduce the flood’s effect.

“The sewage plant in Clair, New Brunswick, is still not operational after that flood,” Don Guimond, town manager, said this week. “Ours never missed a beat.”

To date, FEMA and related agencies have funneled just over $8 million in funding for flood mitigation and repairs stemming from the 2008 flood.

An elderly living complex is planned for a new location to replace units destroyed by the flood, eight structures within the existing flood plain were purchased and destroyed, and the banks along the Fish River at the confluence with the St. John were stabilized.

Since 1970 more than $20.6 million in federal funds have been used for mitigation projects, including relocation of an entire neighborhood from the St. John River flood plain on East Main Street in 1984.

In addition to the comprehensive plan update, the town also is undertaking a remapping of its flood plains thanks to data and technology supplied by FEMA.

As part of that project the Army Corps of Engineers will certify if the municipal levee meets or exceeds all safety standards.

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