City officials and emergency responders say flooding in the capital district could be worse than originally expected.
Officials are preparing to close parking lots and are warning property owners in low-lying areas to prepare for wet basements in response to flooding expected Wednesday along the Kennebec River.
The Kennebec River was running at 11.3 feet at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. The river was expected to surpass the 12-foot flood stage Tuesday evening and continue rising overnight and through the morning Wednesday. The river is expected to crest at a little over 20 feet around 4 p.m. Wednesday. The predicted crest is up about 4 feet from Monday afternoon.
“Twenty feet is a little bit different,” Augusta Fire Chief Roger Audette said. “That puts water into quite a few buildings on Water Street. We need to make sure things are squared away.”
Rain in the western part of the state fell throughout Tuesday and promised to hang on for much of the overnight into Wednesday. That rain, which fell on a healthy snow pack, was creating significant runoff into the Kennebec River, said Kennebec County Emergency Management Director Richard Beausoleil.
“We still have a lot of melting going on up north,” he said. “Whatever is melting in the watershed is coming down the river.”
Forecasters at the National Weather Service on Tuesday afternoon were calling for heavy rain in the capital district, with more than 2 inches possible by the time it wraps up Wednesday morning.
“There’s a big slug of rain coming,” Beausoleil said. “Things are going to get wet and windy here as well.”
Audette said officials spent Tuesday contacting trash haulers and contractors to get them to remove trash from bins along Front Street and secure the containers so they would stay put in rising water. The city also directed fuel companies to secure propane tanks and notified those who live and work along Water Street. Audette said the Front Street parking lot will close Tuesday evening and remained closed at least through Thursday.
Officials in Gardiner and Hallowell were taking similar precautions. Gardiner Police Chief James Toman said city officials were planning for flooding at the waterfront and in the arcade parking lot. Buildings that abut the arcade lot probably will have flooded basements, Toman said.
The arcade parking lot will close at noon Wednesday. Cars still in the lot after that will be towed at the owners’ expense, Toman warned. Beginning at 10 a.m. Wednesday, and running through the overnight hours, parking on Water Street won’t be timed. Toman said drivers must ensure a spot is legal and should ask business owners if they want to park in a private lot.
“It’s very important that people remove their vehicle from the arcade lot,” Toman said. “If anyone has a Dumpster, they should think about securing those or having them removed.”
Hallowell police Sgt. Peter Cloutier said he made rounds Tuesday, warning those who live and work on the river side of Water Street. The river breaks over Front Street at 15 feet and reaches Water Street at 24 feet.
“It’s going to be halfway between,” Cloutier said.
Officials said they will continue to watch the weather. If the rain stalls in the west, it could mean greater flooding in the Augusta area.
“If they upgrade anything, we will be working with the local EMA directors,” Beausoleil said.
Audette said officials in Augusta will keep an extra close eye on Bond Brook.
“Water can back up anywhere,” he said. “People need to make sure they’re not driving through low-lying areas where there’s water in the street.”
Toman urged people to stay clear of the Kennebec River and Cobbosseecontee Stream.
“Don’t go in or near the rapidly rising water,” Toman said. “Don’t put yourself in harm’s way.”
Craig Crosby — 621-5642 email@example.com Twitter: @CraigCrosby4