PEMBROKE, Maine — Their experience may not compare with the flooding that is taking place in the northern and central parts of the state, but to the people who live along Pennamaquan Lake and River, the wet basements and flooded fields are causes for concern.
East River Road behind the Crossroads Motel and Restaurant is impassable. A small bridge sits in the middle of the road and water passes under it. In the past few days, water has overflowed its bank and spilled over the road.
The town has dumped a pile of dirt onto the road as a temporary barrier to keep residents from driving through the water. There are signs indicating closed roads and plenty of fluorescent orange tape.
Fire Chief Bob Barr is concerned about the closure because firetrucks and ambulances have to travel five miles out of their way to reach the other side of the river. The delay in getting emergency personnel to a scene could mean the loss of a house or life, Barr added.
The Pennamaquan watershed begins at Round Pond in Charlotte. The pond, along with other brooks and streams, spills into the 1,200-acre Pennamaquan Lake. From there the water travels downstream to a small opening under the bridge on East River Road.
Two small dams, one upstream and one downstream from the road, are controlled by the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Barr, who inspected damage to the road Thursday, blamed the problem on upstream water levels at Little Falls Dam. He said he believes the agency should have opened the upriver dam sooner to help control water levels downstream.
“This year, the water was high since the first of March and they just didn’t come around and open the gate to let some water out, and so when we had the rain the other day with all the snow, now we have this because they didn’t release water ahead of time,” he said.
But DIF&W biologist Jim Hall said Thursday that opening the upper gate too soon could have compounded the problem. Most years, he said, the agency hasn’t had to open the dams, but this year was different because of all of the snowmelt.
“Ideally you lower the lower [dam] and get the water down. Then you lower the upper one so you aren’t compounding the problem,” he said.
The problem in Pembroke, he said, is the road itself because massive amounts of water are being funneled through a tiny opening in the road. It’s similar to pouring gallons of water through a straw, he said.
“Water right now is 3 or 4 feet higher on the upstream side of the road. The road acts as a dam in that the water, even when you have the gate open, still can’t run off fast enough to get underneath the road. There is a constriction. Ideally the opening underneath the road should be wider,” he said.
The damage from the water reaches for miles and has affected a pasture owned by Barr. “I can’t use my fields because they are underwater,” he said.
People’s basements are flooded. In one section of Little Falls Road an old barn has water all around it, as does a nearby trampoline.
“I know up on Pennamaquan Lake an owner who lives on the lake, but he also has a camp to one side and the camp is completely surrounded by water,” Barr said.
Pembroke resident Barbara Pulk said Thursday she has lived in the area for more than 35 years and has never seen the river so high. “I’ve never seen it that bad,” she said as she stood near the bridge. “I couldn’t believe it at all.”
Terry Daggett, who lives next to the Pennamaquan River, also said it was the worst he’d seen, but admitted he’s usually not around during the winter months. “I’m usually down in Florida this time of year,” he said with a grin. “But I’ve seen pictures of it and it wasn’t this bad in previous years.”
The swollen river is about a foot from his garage. “I don’t think it’s going to get any worse unless we get a lot more rain,” he said.