AUGUSTA — U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers will not be able to make their way up the Kennebec River until Wednesday next week at the earliest, emergency management officials learned during a meeting Friday morning.

The request for the icebreakers comes as downtown Augusta and Hallowell remain vulnerable to midwinter river flooding, caused by an ice jam last weekend that stranded many vehicles and sent icy water into businesses in low-lying areas.

Even as the National Weather Service canceled its flood warning for the Kennebec River on Friday morning, local officials and affected businesses owners remained wary of the potential for flooding to return with the forecast calling for temperature well above freezing this weekend.

During Friday morning’s emergency management meeting among the Coast Guard, the Maine Emergency Management Agency and the Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency, officials said the Coast Guard icebreaker that could come up the river would measure 140 feet in length, and a smaller, 65-foot vessel also might provide support, according to Chief Warrant Officer Robert Nichols, of the Coast Guard’s Waterways Management Office.

The Coast Guard had received a request Wednesday from the Maine Emergency Management Agency to break out the ice on the Kennebec to ward against further flooding. The depth of the river and low height of the Pearl Harbor Remembrance Bridge linking Gardoner and Randolph limit the Coast Guard’s ability to reach the ice jam, but it still could open up water downriver to improve the river flow, said Lt. Matthew Odom, chief of the Waterways Management Division in Northern New England.

“We are working with our resource people to determine the logistics of relocating a larger icebreaker from another region in New England,” Odom said Thursday.

Two 65-foot icebreakers are active now on the Penobscot River near Bangor, but Odom said the Coast Guard usually uses a larger vessel on the Kennebec.

The Coast Guard asked the U.S. Geological Survey to measure the thickness of the Kennebec River ice in Richmond, and a USGS official said the agency planned to do that Monday if the federal government remains open for business.

The USGS said the river is nearly 100 percent ice south of Gardiner and into Richmond. John Jensenius, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service in Gray, said warm weather and potential rain are in the forecast the next few days, but the weather shouldn’t pose a big problem.

“There will be some melting, but not as much as one might expect,” he said. “It’s not a case like we had last weekend, and we’re not expecting additional runoff from melting snow.”

At 3 p.m. Friday, the river level was below flood stage — 11.3 feet — and should remain there because of warmer temperature and drier air, which limits the amount of melting, Jensenius said.

Sean Goodwin, the executive director of the Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency, and other officials said that while there is no guarantee breaking up the ice south of Gardiner will loosen the ice jam, it will help.

“At this point, there are no alerts or warnings on the river, but please keep in mind that the river can come up at any time at any point and very fast,” Goodwin said.

Sometime early Sunday morning, ice accumulated near Farmingdale and created a dam in the river, prompting fast-paced flooding. Basements were filled with icy water, and while no injuries were reported, there was damage to buildings and vehicles in both cities.

The damage in Hallowell was worse, and several popular businesses on Water Street, including the Quarry Tap Room, HydeOut at the Wharf and the Easy Street Lounge, have been cleaning up and working to resume operations.

The Quarry, whose owners said sustained more than $35,000 worth of damage, re-opened its bar area Wednesday, and the kitchen was expected to begin serving food again Friday evening. The Easy Street Lounge re-opened Thursday night, and HydeOut owner Wayne Hyde said he hopes to re-open Thursday.

Hyde and others have been cleaning, bleaching and painting as they get ready to reopen the bar after it was flooded in the jam. Water-damaged insulation and wallboard had to be torn away from the walls.

More than a dozen vehicles were either fully submerged and encased in ice or partially affected by the flood Sunday morning. By Friday, just a few remained as the cleanup operations continued along the waterfront in Hallowell.

Front Street remains closed in both cities, and in Hallowell, arrangements have been made with a private property owner to allow parking in the upper lot of the Public Utilities Commission space on Winthrop Street through Jan. 28.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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