In Vermont, Flooding Threat Wanes

By | December 31, 2008

Cooling temperatures and falling Winooski River water levels have all but eliminated the threat of flooding in Montpelier, Vermon — for now.

The river’s depth, which had risen because of an ice jam, dropped by 8 inches overnight and was just over 8 feet and falling Monday, well below its flood stage of 15 feet. The North Branch of the Winooski, which joins the main river near the state Capitol, also was subsiding.

Deputy Fire Chief Bob Gowans says the threat — a source of concern over the weekend, with rain and temperatures in the 40s and 50s — has largely passed, although ice on the river is likely to be a problem through spring.

“At this point, it looks like we’re out of the woods,” Gowans said. “Things are improving in the rivers. If we have another cold snap of two or three days of real cold weather and things freeze, and then we get some warming, that’ll cause some more ice jamming,” he said.

City officials warned last week that the ice jam could cause flooding, and they stepped up monitoring of U.S. Geological Survey river gauges over the weekend.

In March 1992, a spring ice jam backed up the river and caused it to overflow, flooding Vermont’s capital with bone-chilling waters that inundated streets and stores and forced evacuations.

Two years ago, a similar jam had the city on high alert. Store owners fortified their buildings with sandbags, the city conducted an extensive public awareness campaign and property owners moved belongings out of basements for fear of flooding.

At Onion River Sports, workers cleared out hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise for a flood that never came. This time around, owner Andrew Brewer didn’t feel the threat was as real.

“I can’t empty the basement every time there’s a concern, “he said Monday. “We’ve all learned to live with it. It’s a factor of life doing business in downtown Montpelier in a flood zone.”

With online monitoring of the river gauges, heightened awareness of river levels and city-issued e-mail alerts, Montpelier residents and business owners are vigilant about preparation — in case of a 1992 replay.

“They learned some things from ’92,” said Emma Bay-Hansen, owner of Damsels, a women’s clothing store on Main Street. “I have faith in our system, that they wouldn’t let it get that bad,” she said Monday.

In Enosburg, Vermont Route 105 remained closed Monday because of flooding stemming from an ice jam in the Missisquoi River. An 800-foot section was under more than a foot of water.

“Until Mother Nature breaks through the jam, we’ll have to keep the road closed,” said John Zicconi, a spokesman for the state Agency of Transportation.

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On the Web:

City of Montpelier: http://www.montpelier-vt.org/

U.S. Geological Survey river gauge:
http://newweb.erh.noaa.gov/ahps2/hydrograph.php?wfo=btv&gage=monv1

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