Saturday’s lightning-quick flood that trapped cars in the Kennebec River revealed a lot about Hallowell’s response plan in such an emergency — namely, that there really isn’t one.

Hallowell, whose downtown sits in a low-lying area next to a flood-prone river that is only getting moreso, relies on an informal system to notify businesses and residents when rising water becomes a danger. On Saturday, that informal system may have been worse than no system at all.

It is usually police Chief Eric Nason who informs downtown business owners when there is a risk of flooding. But Nason said he never heard from emergency management officials — even though the National Weather Service issued a flood warning on Saturday morning — so he had nothing to pass on.

Having not heard from Nason, at least some business owners figured flooding wasn’t in the cards. One of those was Bruce Mayo, owner of the Easy Street Lounge, whose night ended with the sound of water flowing into his bar. All told, more than a dozen vehicles ended up under water, and there were thousands of dollars of damage done to businesses. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

Sean Goodwin, the Kennebec County emergency management director, said he didn’t inform Nason and others of the updated forecast because he never received it. It may have been sent to his office, he said, but he wasn’t in his office Saturday.

Of course, anyone with an internet connection — in or out of the office — could have checked with the National Weather Service. As it became obvious that conditions were right for a flood, even if the chances were low, it should have been someone’s job to do just that, and make sure that people heard about it.

The business owners could have looked for the flood warning themselves, but it seems they were used to relying on Nason. Nason, as the city’s top public safety official, could have looked too, but he was used to waiting for county emergency management.

And it’s unclear why Goodwin, or someone else at emergency management, wasn’t monitoring the situation — emergencies happen on weekends too. If a call was made to Nason with the news of the flood warning, things may have been different.

But that’s not really the point. Hallowell shouldn’t rely on such an informal notification system, not when changing weather patterns are expected to make flooding more of a problem in the future.

Ultimately, it’s the city’s responsibility to inform residents and businesses when flooding poses a danger. In this case, officials fell short of that responsibility, and they should acknowledge that failure while committing to a more formal system that won’t so easily break down.

filed under:

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.