An ice jam around Lock 6 this weekend has caused communities along the Allegheny River to be on flood watch.
“It extends up river about five miles and getting bigger every day,” Kittanning Hose Company #1 Fire Chief Gene Stephens said. “We have sheet ice that is flowing from up north, down. Around the Graff Bridge, the ice is actually starting to stack up on top of the other.”
The good news is that warmer temperatures are melting layers of ice, according to Mike Fries, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service.
“We are expecting a slow rot-out of the ice. It’s had time to melt off the snow the last few days and has put most of that water into the river. We are relatively confident there won’t be huge issues.”
Fries said there has been no word from the Army Corps of Engineers as of late last night that the ice jam at Lock 6 has begun to move.
Applewold Resident and Borough President Mark Feeney was keeping a close watch on the ice.
“I’ve been here 53 years and I have never seen the Allegheny River up here jam. I’ve seen the flat ice here, and move out, but I have never seen a jam that comes from down past Lock 6 near Clinton and it is clear up through to Kittanning. If you have watched the ice in Kittanning the last three days, it will fill the river, it will push south, and push it under the ice that is jammed. There are places where it has lifted the ice up 20 feet where it is now on the bottom of the river. At any time, it could build its own dam and shut down the river. If that happens, the water could back up into Kittanning and Applewold in a half hour.”
First Ward Councilwoman Betsy Wilt agreed with Feeney.
“I’ve been around many, many years in this river town, and I have never seen it jam like that. Historically, if you wanted to see an ice jam, you went to East Brady or up to Parker. In January 1959, the ice came down and jammed in Manorville on the islands and it all backed into Kittanning. Big huge ice chucks came down the street. We had ice chucks on the street for months until they melted. I was living here on Vine Street at the time.”
Stephens had a slightly different outlook on it.
“Being born and raised here in Kittanning for 47 years and listening to other guys and girls that have been here for 80 or 90 years – my grandfather, my uncles, my aunts and other people in town – they say that what the water left before, it will always come back and take away. It looks like there is that potential of happening this winter.”
Feeney said the water was flowing in reverse.
“If you stand on the dock here in Applewold, you can actually see the water flowing north along the Applewold shore, so that tells you there is a dam there somewhere.”
Kittanning Borough Street Superintendent Jim Mechling reported that huge steel I-beams used to anchor the docks at the Riverfront Park has been struck by large icebergs over the past week and been damaged.
“Some are missing and a few are bent over,” Mechling said.
Mechling said he had no estimate of the cost to replace the I-beams but felt it would be substantial.
Councilwoman Wilt said there was only approximately $6,000 in the Riverfront Park account. She hopes the Borough can enlist volunteers with the proper equipment to help with repairs once the damage has been assessed.
“We don’t know how much damage there is even below,” Wilt said. “The I-beams go down a long way into the water. We won’t know until that ice is all out of there. We don’t even know if there is damage to the amphitheater itself either. There’s a big iceberg sitting there on the stage area.”
Daytime temperatures are to be above freezing all this week.