Town of Jay declares state of emergency
By Tim Rowland
Warm rains and melting snow flowed into the frozen East Branch of the Ausable River Thursday, until the ice gave way Friday morning, releasing a torrent of frigid water and blocks of ice the size of sofas that pounded a low lying community on the south end of the hamlet of Au Sable Forks.
A state of emergency was declared in the Town of Jay, which opened its community center to those in need of food and heat. The center, an old schoolhouse, had recently been hardened into an emergency shelter with grant funding awarded in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene.
There were no immediate reports of injuries, but a number of basements were flooded, and several vehicles and other property were swept downstream by the ice.
Greg Timmons, deputy director of Clinton County Emergency services said the worst of the ice jam thundered through the community about 9:30 a.m. By afternoon, emergency crews from multiple jurisdictions were working with the power company to shut off electricity so basements could be safely pumped and furnaces cleaned.
Timmons estimated that 20 to 25 homes had been affected by the flood. “If you’ve lived here a while, you know the potential, and you know to be prepared,” he said.
The National Weather Service had posted multiple warnings that the ice jam was in danger of breaking.
As ice jams go, this one was relatively minor, Timmons said. The jams occur in cold winters when the ice freezes to a thickness of 18 inches or more, then a warm rain creates snowmelt and runoff that raises the level of the river, breaking the ice loose.
When it goes, it tends to go all at once, creating a rapid rise in the water, which quickly recedes. According to the National Weather Service, the Ausable crested at just over 15 feet, eight feet above flood stage.
Jay Supervisor Matt Stanley declared an emergency at 10 a.m. Friday after water began to back up behind thick blocks of ice, first at Upper Jay, then at points further downstream. As of Friday afternoon, Stanley said the town was assessing damages to infrastructure, water and sewer plants, roads, bridges and residences.
While they don’t occur every year, ice jams are fairly common on the Ausable River because it is wide and slow-moving — made so by 19th century industrialization when water powered mills and floated logs. The Ausable River Association, working with the towns of Jay and Keene, is leading a series of projects to return the river to its natural state, thus reducing the severity of flooding.