April 06, 2020
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Rain a wild card in Northern Maine flood potential

CARIBOU, Maine — Though the swollen St. John and Aroostook rivers resulted in some flooding for local roads and homes, flood watchers in the northernmost reaches of Maine said Tuesday that they did not anticipate a repeat of last spring’s devastation.

A large ice jam on the Aroostook River just above Caribou that officials were keeping a wary eye on Tuesday night broke up at about 9 p.m., causing a dramatic drop in water levels, according to Aroostook County Emergency Management Agency Director Vern Ouellette.

Ouellette said the dropping river level likely meant that the communities flanking the Aroostook River would get through this spring without major damage.

A handful of roads in Fort Fairfield were closed Tuesday night by flooding, according to Fort Fairfield police Officer Stan Nicholson.

He said a small section of Dorsey Road near the intersection of Main Street could reopen overnight and that portions of Riverside Avenue and Russell Road should be back in business soon.

“We’re still keeping an eye on the situation, but things look pretty good right now,” Ouellette said.

“It’s been a good year. We’ve had average snowfall and no large amounts of rain [in recent days]. The ice is different. It’s what we call a gray ice,” he said, explaining that gray ice is more porous than blue ice.

As such, it breaks up more readily, making it less likely to form jams that dam up water behind them.

Longtime river observer Roy Gardner of Allagash, who has been keeping an eye on the Allagash, upper St. John and Little Black rivers each spring for two decades, agreed.

“I don’t see any problems,” Gardner said early Tuesday afternoon. “Everything is going fine.”

The two agreed that the wild card was rain.

“‘Tis a lot of water in the woods yet,” Gardner said, adding that rapid snowmelt, combined with rain, could wreak some havoc in low-lying areas.

“I’m a little bit optimistic, but everyone should keep a watch,” he said.

Ouellette said people living along northern Maine’s rivers and streams seemed a bit “overly cautious” because of the millions of dollars’ worth of damage from major flooding last year and on several occasions in the last few decades. “We’ve got a heightened awareness,” he said.

County EMA officials said that the Aroostook River caused flooding late Monday and early Tuesday on Gardner Creek Road in Wade where eight people, all adults and from the same family, had to be evacuated. Seven left on their own, but one had to be taken to safety by means of a payloader. The American Red Cross put the evacuees up in a Caribou motel.

On Tuesday afternoon, about a dozen people gathered below a dam in Caribou, which produces power for WPS Energy Services, in the hopes of seeing some ice jam action.

Among them was Washburn firefighter Derek Wilcox, who said his mother, Angela Wilcox, had about 3 inches of water in her basement and three ice floes stacked up to a height of about 5 feet in her yard.

Wilcox said that Route 164 was closed temporarily because of flooding, but that it since has reopened.

On Tuesday afternoon, the ice jam caused water to back up along the railroad tracks on Dow Siding Road in Caribou, where Ozline and Jeffrey Fisher and their extended family planned to stay in their homes, despite the rising river.

“I’ve lived here for over 50 years. This is kind of normal,” Ozline Fisher said. “We don’t panic.”

Gardner said Edmundston, New Brunswick — across the St. John from Madawaska — saw some minor flooding, but that Fort Kent and Van Buren appear to have been spared, at least so far.

Ouellette said officials are monitoring a 5- to 8-mile-long ice jam on the St. John River, just north of Van Buren.

While that one caused minor flooding along low-lying areas, it had not resulted in road closure or evacuations as of Tuesday evening.

In Mattawamkeag, the Mattawamkeag River seemed to be receding slightly from its flood areas by 4 p.m. Tuesday, if water stains on the trees in swamplands off Lake Street were any indication. Resident Ryan Brown of 8 Lake St. estimated that the waters had receded as much as a foot during the day.

“It ain’t bad yet, is it? I don’t think it will be so bad,” Brown said as he looked out at the river from the porch of his trailer. “Last year it got to be about four feet from the trailer, but now it’s not even close to that.

“I don’t think the water will come out from beyond the banks,” Brown added of the river. “I ain’t too worried.”

Elsewhere along the Mattawamkeag, the river was well within its flood plains near downtown Mattawamkeag and running very fast. In Lincoln, small puddles riddled low-lying areas along the river and water flowed into flood plains.

The Penobscot River, meanwhile, was high on its banks in Lincoln, but no flooding was reported, Police Chief William Flagg said.

BDN writer Nick Sambides Jr. contributed to this report.

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