AUGUSTA — The U.S. Coast Guard is expected to return to the Kennebec River next week for a second early ice-breaking mission amid concerns over flooding in central Maine.

The Maine Emergency Management Agency on Thursday issued a request for ice breaking in the Kennebec and Penobscot rivers, following an unprecedented midwinter ice-breaking effort last month.

Susan Faloon, spokeswoman for MEMA, said Thursday the decision to send a second request is based on the weather. A warm front pushing through the region Wednesday brought record-breaking temperature to Maine, which resulted in melting snow and ice. But the cold front that followed brought more seasonal weather, which will slow the rate of melting and cause some water to refreeze.

“Since we had the melting, we want to break it before it gets too thick,” Faloon said.

Because of the warming trend, Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency Director Sean Goodwin said the ice in the Kennebec River is thinning. That assessment was confirmed Thursday by the Coast Guard.

Lt. Matthew Odom, chief of the Waterways Division for northern New England, said the river ice appears to be deteriorating, and the trend for warmer air temperature over the next week factors into the decision.

“We have also seen the trending warmer water temperatures in the river,” he said.

The South Portland-based USCGC Shackle has been deployed to the Kennebec, was assessing conditions Thursday and will continue its work Friday, Odom said.

Faloon said Wednesday’s melting didn’t pose an imminent threat of flooding. Rather, she said, this is an early request for a spring ice-breaking mission. In late January, the Coast Guard deployed ships up the Kennebec River at the request of MEMA after a sudden and destructive ice jam formed on the river.

Frigid temperature in December broke records when the daily highs hovered around zero across the region. The result on the Kennebec was a thick layer of ice. But a brief warm spell accompanied by rain in mid-January resulted river ice being broken and shifted downstream, creating the jam sent freezing water into low-lying areas in Augusta and Hallowell.

Augusta officials closed the Front Street parking lot as a precaution. In Hallowell, fast-rising water stranded a number of vehicles and flooded businesses on the river side of Water Street.

A series of flood watches and warnings issued in the days that followed kept riverfront communities in southern Kennebec County on edge.

In a bid to alleviate the jam, MEMA sent a request to the Coast Guard for ice breaking in January to open up the river below the ice jam.

Three 65-foot ice-breaking tugs and a 140-foot ice breaker tried for several days to break through the ice between Chops Point in Woolwich and Richmond; but the ice was too thick, and what they were breaking was not flowing downstream. After a week, the effort was suspended.

This second request comes closer to the Coast Guard’s usual ice-breaking operation which, depending on weather conditions, general takes place during March.

Odom said while tactics and logistics are still being worked out, he expects a response similar to January’s effort. The Coast Guard is considering sending up its larger cutter from the New York area, but how the boats will be deployed for the operations in the two rivers has yet to be determined.

In the meantime, Coast Guard officials are looking at weather and tide cycles to calculate when to start the break-out.

“The wheels are in motion,” he said.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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