May 24, 2019

Fort Fairfield seeks flood prevention> Report provides recommendations to help prevent repeat of April disaster

FORT FAIRFIELD — While the flood waters have receded and some Main Street businesses here have reopened, the recovery effort in this town is continuing.

Town officials are busy collecting data that will help them in applying for federal and state funds to implement procedures that could help in avoiding such a disaster again.

Options include relocation, building a dike, and dredging the Aroostook River which overflowed its banks in mid-April. Damage totaled $5.1 million. Almost a month later, the region was declared a federal disaster area and eligible for federal assistance funds.

Part of the information used to apply for those funds is a report that offers ways to reduce the risk of future floods.

The recommendations, issued late last week, range from early public warning systems to building a dike for protection from raging spring waters.

The 30-page report, required as a part of the presidential emergency declaration, was compiled by federal, state and county emergency management personnel with the help of local officials. Other members of the team were from the U.S. Geological Survey and from other towns that have had flood damage.

One of the recommendations revives the idea of building a dike along the Aroostook River. While the Army Corps of Engineers determined last year that a dike was not economically justified, the mitigation report suggested that the economic analysis be revisited.

In 1988, the corps designed a dike to protect the town’s downtown area. Since then, the town has experienced six floods caused by to ice jams. Using the data compiled in the six years since the initial design, town officials have asked for a re-evaluation, according to the team’s report.

Another proposal involved studying the effect of lowering water levels behind Tinker Dam in New Brunswick. The dam, which produces electricity for Maine Public Service Co. in Aroostook County is about four miles downstream from Fort Fairfield.

According to the report, ice jams have occurred behind the dam every spring since it was built. If studies indicated that lowering the water level above the dam would help prevent the jams, trials should be initiated next spring, said the report.

Another recommendation called for buying the flood damaged homes and businesses and relocating them.

“Several properties along the Aroostook River in Fort Fairfield have been flooded more than five times and at least one property is reported to have been flooded 15 times in the last 18 years,” the report said.

About 45 structures have been identified for possible relocation, according to Town Manager Scott Seabury.

A meeting is being scheduled for early July to inform residents about the possibilities of relocating, Seabury said.

The report singled out the Field’s Lane public housing project which was flooded in April. The project was built with federal funds in the 1970s and houses mostly elderly people.

“The Fort Fairfield Housing Authority needs to make a decision with regard to the current location of the project,” the report said.

Establishing a tie-in with the river ice monitoring program of the St. John River Forecast Center and the New Brunswick Department of the Environment also was suggested. Currently there is no spring monitoring system for the U.S. part of the Aroostook River in the spring.

The American Red Cross also should be included in the early warning system, said the report. Although the National Weather Service flood warning was issued at 4:30 a.m. April 16, the Red Cross was not notified until 4 p.m. that day.

A method for controlling crowds at disaster sites also was suggested, as well as a cellular phone system for municipal departments. When the flood waters reached a certain level in Fort Fairfield, the conventional telephone system broke down and summoning assistance was difficult, the report said.

The feasibility of flood-proofing structures, including the possibiltiy of constructing drainage systems under buildings, needs to be studied, according to the report. Flood maps also need to be revised, it said.

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