AUGUSTA — After making little headway on the Penobscot River’s thick ice, U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers will hit the Kennebec River on Wednesday.

Hoping to fend off spring flooding, four cutters, including the 140-foot Thunder Bay, are set to break ice from Bath to Gardiner for four days next week, said Lt. David Bourbeau, the Coast Guard’s waterways management chief in Maine.

It might be an important trip. Last week, a state weather commission heard that an unseasonably cold winter has left strong river ice and snowpacks that should linger into April, leaving the state vulnerable to flooding if heavy rainfall strikes.

Lately, Coast Guard icebreakers have run into difficult ice conditions along the Penobscot. They were able to advance only 650 yards on the river between Bangor and Brewer on Wednesday, finding giant pieces of ice ranging from 10 to 15 feet thick. Bourbeau said it “looked like Arctic conditions” there.

He said it isn’t expected to be that bad on the Kennebec. Last week, Gregory Stewart, data section chief for the U.S. Geological Survey in Augusta, said ice was still more than a foot thick during a recent measurement on the Kennebec River in Sidney. In Madison, an ice jam that began near the river’s confluence with the Carrabassett River was still in place.

Bourbeau said the plan is to take the Thunder Bay and three smaller icebreakers to Richmond as far as the new Maine-Kennebec Bridge. From there, the three 65-foot ships — the Bridle, the Tackle and the Shackle — will continue up the river to Gardiner if conditions allow.

“But of course, the ice is going to tell us what we can or can’t do,” Bourbeau said.

Sean Goodwin, interim director of the Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency, said he has been in touch with Hallowell and Gardiner, the county’s low-lying cities on the river, and he has his “fingers crossed, because we are coming to crunch time” for flood risk, but there are spots on the river where ice is rotting.

But there’s little precipitation in the National Weather Service’s forecast for the week ahead, with highs predicted to remain above freezing during the day and below freezing at night. That has Goodwin optimistic for now.

“We’re hoping for no heavy rains now,” he said. “It appears we’re being blessed with that.”

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme


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