HALLOWELL — Even as icy water slowly receded back into the Kennebec River toward below flood level, local officials and business owners here continued to grapple with questions about what could have been done differently to limit damage to vehicles and buildings suddenly engulfed over the weekend.

The unexpected flooding of Front Street early Sunday morning resulted in more than a dozen destroyed vehicles and thousands of dollars’ worth of damage to businesses.

On Tuesday, a review by the Kennebec Journal found that Kennebec County and local officials didn’t heed a flood warning the National Weather Service had issued hours before the water encroached, signaling an apparent breakdown in communication. Previously, local officials have acted on such warnings by alerting people in low-lying areas.

Mayor Mark Walker said the City Council will look at whether any information should have been provided to residents and businesses, but City Manager Nate Rudy said Tuesday he doesn’t think it’s time yet for that discussion.

“I don’t think it behooves us to have that conversation until everybody is ready to sit down and talk without being distracted,” Rudy said. “We’ll have that conversation when the time is right.”

Rudy said the city will want to meet with its emergency management partners to discuss what happened, but he said that discussion should happen when everyone can review the procedures and protocols in a clear-headed way after the water has receded.

Councilor Maureen Aucoin said the city tries to be as prepared as possible, but when flooding occurs at this time of year rather than the spring, it adds another layer of unpredictability because of the ice and cold.

“Any time an event like this happens that impacts so many and causes so much damage, the city will look at it to see what, if anything, could be done differently,” she said. “We have strict codes for any new development in the flood zone to minimize risk, but unfortunately, much of Hallowell’s downtown is already well developed in an area perpetually prone to flooding.”

Councilors Lynn Irish and Diano Circo said it will be important for the city to review its procedures to make sure it’s prepared moving forward. Circo said he’d continue to review the details of how the city responded and worked with state emergency management officials before suggesting any potential changes.

“The river is going to do what the river’s going to do,” Irish said. She didn’t want to point the finger at anyone or any agency, and she said she’s not sure what anyone could have done to prevent what happened.

Sometime after midnight Sunday morning, ice accumulated downstream — near Farmingdale — and created a dam in the river. In the course of a few minutes, the water rose about 8 feet in downtown Hallowell and Augusta. Basements were filled with icy water, and while no injuries were reported, there was damage to buildings and vehicles in both cities.

At its peak, the Kennebec River in Augusta surged above the 12-foot flood stage, reaching close to 20 feet, which is the third-highest crest on record in Augusta. By Monday morning, it had receded to 14 feet and kept dropping throughout the day.

The river was just below 13 feet at 5 p.m. Tuesday, and National Weather Service meteorologist Margaret Curtis said it should continue to drop and be below flood level by Wednesday afternoon.

The National Weather Service issued a flood warning for the Kennebec River on Friday, after first issuing a watch the day before. That information did not make it to Hallowell business owners, residents or local officials, including Chief Eric Nason, of the Hallowell police.

In Augusta, one car was damaged after police spent much of Saturday warning drivers not to park in the flood plain and even ordered two cars to be towed to safety because their owners were away on vacation. Augusta police, who closed Front Street on Saturday ahead of the flood, said Tuesday that Front Street would remain closed to drivers and pedestrians indefinitely.

There was no such warning in Hallowell, and Nason said there was no reason for him to warn business owners and residents because as far as he knew, the area was just under a flood watch.

Kennebec County Emergency Management director Sean Goodwin said he never received the flood warning from the weather service, so he didn’t have any additional information to provide other than the alert he sent out Friday after a conference call with the state’s emergency management agency and the U.S. Coast Guard.

“There’s no way we can predict when an ice jam can happen, nor the severity of the jam,” Goodwin said.

Nason said even if there had a warning of a pending flood, there’s no way to predict that an ice jam would occur, so he isn’t sure how it could’ve been different.

“It was so quick, and there wasn’t any time to respond,” Nason said Monday. “There were no indicators this was going to occur.”

CLEANUP

The parking lot on Front Street near the HydeOut at the Wharf bar, where about 17 vehicles were submerged in ice Sunday, was being cleaned up Tuesday by the city’s Public Works Department and private towing companies.

Rudy said a public works loader broke up a lot of the ice Tuesday, which allowed several of the frozen vehicles to be towed out of the area. The department will continue to monitor the river’s water level and the safety of the parking lot over the coming days, Rudy said.

The Quarry Tap Room’s basement had 3 feet of water Sunday morning and all of the restaurant’s product — beer, wine and liquor, included — was lost.

Co-owner Steve LaChance, who said he met with an insurance adjuster Tuesday, said the damage could be more than $35,000, including product and revenue loss, cleaning, equipment repairs and replacement and structural work. He said the bar area would reopen Wednesday, and the restaurant on Friday, but it will probably have a limited menu until the kitchen can be restocked.

HydeOut owner Wayne Hyde said he couldn’t estimate how much damage his bar sustained because he was still throwing goods away Tuesday afternoon and wasn’t ready to try to calculate what was lost.

Rudy said the owner of the upper Public Utilities Commission lot off Winthrop Street has agreed to let displaced users park there through the remainder of the week. Others in Hallowell also have stepped up to offer support to those affected by Sunday’s flooding.

Leah Sampson, the owner of the Maine House lounge, said on Facebook that “team work makes the dream work” and that all of Hallowell is “in this together.” Many people commented that they’d be willing to help in any way they could.

LOOKING AHEAD

Meanwhile, Hallowell businesses will continue to clean up the damage and prepare to re-open in the next few days. The New England Patriots play in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday afternoon, so the Quarry and HydeOut want to be back in business before then.

Curtis, from the weather service’s office in Gray, said central Maine will get 4 to 8 inches of snow Wednesday, but it shouldn’t affect the flooding or river’s water level.

This weekend, however, the temperature in central Maine is expected to creep into the low to mid-40s, which is something the weather service will watch closely.

“There’s no rain in the forecast, but it’s still something to keep a close eye on,” Curtis said. “It’s really important that people realize that ice can move anytime, so don’t park cars down by the river and stay away.”

Rudy said the city also will be watching the weather this weekend, and he said he hopes the county EMA gives Hallowell advice on assessing the potential for additional flooding.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.