High water after days of heavy rain closed some local roads and bridges in central Maine on Monday, but no injuries or significant property damage was reported.
Local public works crews, county emergency management officials and even the state Department of Transportation kept a close eye on the roiling Kennebec River as it spilled over its banks into parking lots and basements.
In Gardiner, state officials closed two bridges over Cobbossee Stream — one on Bridge Street near Dennis’ Pizza and another on Maine Avenue near Harvey’s Hardware.
The precautionary move frustrated A1 Diner owner Mike Giberson, who said he can’t afford to close the restaurant.
“Even in the flood of ’87 it was never closed when the water was butting up against it,” he said. “Someone in DOT has it in their head it needs to be closed. That doesn’t quite make sense to me.”
The state decided to close both bridges because of the pace of the water moving below, not because they feared the water would spill over the bridges, said Randy Prince, a DOT supervisor out of West Gardiner.
“These two bridges are scour critical,” he said. “The water is rushing so hard it scours the underneath of the bridges.”
DOT wants to go through two more high tide cycles before they decide whether it’s safe to reopen the bridges, he said. They will reevaluate the situation this afternoon, he said.
On Monday afternoon, Giberson’s diner was full of customers as DOT crews unloaded blockades that they set beside the bridge in preparation for the closure.
In 1987, the Kennebec crested at 34.1 feet. Predictions for this storm called for the river to reach 15 feet, 4 inches before it recedes by midday Wednesday, according to the Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency. The river was 25 percent to 35 percent wider than normal on Monday, according to Sean Goodwin, deputy director of the agency.
In Augusta, Front Street, downtown along the west bank of the Kennebec, was flooded, water lapping the backs of the buildings that line Water Street. At the East Side Boat Landing, the docks were battered and buckled by the fast-moving water, prompting city crews to remove them in the afternoon.
Hallowell closed its Front Street, a dirt road that runs along the river, putting up signs warning drivers not to park too close to the water. By late afternoon, water was on the doorstep of The Kennebec Wharf, but had not yet seeped inside.
Gardiner closed two parking areas, the Arcade and Waterfront parking lots. Gardiner Police Chief James Toman said that since those lots have been closed, people are allowed to park without time limits on any city street.
State transportation officials announced other road closures on Monday: Thorofare Road, from Richmond to Litchfield, between U.S. Route 201 and Plains Road; Route 197 in Richmond, off U.S. 201; and the bridge on Plains and Pond roads that goes over Cobbossee Stream.
In Skowhegan, public works officials said they were on standby throughout the day, but did not report any significant damage or flooding from the Kennebec.
Wet weather abates
Meteorologist James Brown with the National Weather Service in Gray said 3 to 5 inches of rain fell in the Augusta area through Monday morning. He said that although spots in southern Maine got closer to 8 inches, the rainfall in central Maine was more than enough to cause some flooding.
“The weather will somewhat improve,” he said. “We won’t be having the heavier bands of rain.”
The forecast calls for rain through Thursday, although it is predicted to result in less than half an inch of additional rain in the Augusta area.
While most of the concern was focused on buildings and people near the Kennebec, other areas saw their share of water.
At Lithgow Public Library in Augusta, staff closed off part of the building to the public because of water running in from a leaky 1979 roof, said Elizabeth Pohl, the library’s director. As a result, the library opened two hours late and staff worked around buckets placed to catch the water.
“Today it was just coming in everywhere,” she said.
‘We got high water’
In Belgrade Lakes, Phil Massa from Wallingford, Conn., said rain wouldn’t keep him from a week of fishing at Castle Island Camps.
Every year the 54-year-old U.S. postal carrier reserves a cabin at the Long Pond camp in Belgrade Lakes.
“You come back hell or high water and this year we got high water,” Massa said Monday. “The water actually came right up to the entrance of our cabin. They had to put down an extended dock so we can step on it to get back into our room.”
Massa said the rain hasn’t hurt fishing. He caught some good-sized small mouth bass on rubber worms.
John Rice, owner of the camp, said the water rose on Sunday a half an inch per hour. His docks are underwater and wooden planks have been laid out for people to get to and from their cabins.
Rice said flood waters continued to rise on Monday and are about 3 inches away from entering the cabins.
“We’re all dam control here and they’re doing their best to keep us from flooding,” he said. “We’ve got guests who say ‘We’ve been here when it’s sunny, we’ve seen rain, and we’ve seen hail and we’re here for all of it.'”
Staff Writer Mechele Cooper contributed to this story.
Susan Cover — 621-5643