VT flood fears fade

After weeks of worry and warnings, the danger that this capital city could be flooded by an ice jam on the Winooski River has passed, city officials have announced.

BY HEATHER MOYER | MONTPELIER, Vt. | March 26, 2007



"Breathe easier, it's all over for this year."

—William Fraser, city manager


After weeks of worry and warnings, the danger that this capital city could be flooded by an ice jam on the Winooski River has passed, city officials have announced.

"Breathe easier, it's all over for this year," City Manager William Fraser said Sunday night as the massive ice jam broke free and moved downstream. "It's a total relief.

"It was a most impressive sight once it got rolling," he added.

A combination of warmer weather and efforts by the city to help melt the ice, including dumping treated effluent into the river, helped avoid a repeat of the devastating 1992 ice jam flooding that caused more than $5 million in damages to the downtown area.

Fraser said that flooding came about so quickly that the city only had about 15 minutes warning.

Unlike 1992, the city today has numerous devices around the river monitoring such things as ice thickness, river depth and temperature. The devices also are connected to alarms to notify the city and police at a certain trigger point. Fraser said officials have been monitoring a possible ice jam risk since late January.

Residents this winter had been on alert for several weeks to potential flooding caused by an ice jam on the river.

The Winooski runs through downtown Montpelier and had been frozen so that it was only flowing at one-third its normal capacity. Officials feared a sudden increase in temperature or a heavy rainfall could cause large chunks of ice to break up and block the river's flow, sending water into streets and homes.

With the flood threat gone, the city now faces the task of collecting the more than 5,600 sandbags that residents and business owners put out to protect against possible flooding.

Fraser, who has been posting information and updates on the city's flood information Web site, said he was looking forward to getting some rest and to having the city return to business as usual.

"I'm way too excited and worn out to type anymore right now," he wrote in a Sunday night posting on the Web site.

Fraser credited the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Lab (CRREL), located in nearby Hanover, N.H., for informing the city about ice jam problems.

"Their whole mission in life is studying rivers and ice and jamming," he said. "They're national experts on it. They've really helped guide our thinking on what works and what doesn't."

CRREL said the ice jam the city experienced was the only one like it since documentation began in the mid-1800s, according to Fraser.

"This is a whole different kind of climate scenario for us," he said. "We don't know if this (ice jam) is a freak incident or a whole new type of phenomenon we'll see more often."


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Related Links:

City of Montpelier Flood Information Web site

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory

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