By BRIAN WALKER
Hagadone News Network
The flooding threat at St. Maries was flushed downstream on the St. Joe River on Monday morning.
Michelle Becktel, Benewah County's Office of Emergency Management manager, said ice chunks were lodged on the Joe at the bridge at St. Joe City between St. Maries and Calder on Sunday afternoon, threatening St. Maries.
However, by Monday morning the river was flowing nicely, she said, alleviating the flooding threat for now.
"The ice jams are gone," Becktel said Monday. "There was a serious threat to the town of St. Maries. We were on flood watch until we saw what would happen. The water level has gone down, and it's been doing OK."
Meanwhile, North Idaho Maritime's tugboat continued to work its way upstream Monday on the Joe, breaking up the ice from St. Maries toward St. Joe City. The tug had reached St. Maries on Saturday.
"Our goal is to get to the Shadowy St. Joe Campground about 10 miles upriver from St. Maries," said John Condon, owner of North Idaho Maritime, adding that the boat was expected to make it about halfway to the campground from St. Maries on Monday. "We're going upriver from St. Maries to break up some of the potential hazards."
Tugboats historically have played a key role in reducing flood threats due to ice buildup on the river. The boats open a path in the river so ice chunks can flow downstream rather than jamming up to create flooding conditions.
"We try to break up the ice in the middle of the river so it can flow down instead of being just one big sheet from shoreline to shoreline and taking out everything in its path," he said.
Condon said the ice on the river has been 6 to 8 inches thick, whereas on Lake Coeur d'Alene to access the river it was 12 to 14 inches thick.
"There's some corners and shady spots on the river that have been more challenging," he said.
Condon said the ice on the rivers can be hard on docks and pilings.
"I'm sure we'll be back up later this spring to do some repairs," he said.
Becktel said the ice jams were just the start of potential flood season on the Joe. Spring runoff from the mountains hasn’t started.
"We're not out of the woods yet," she said. "There's still the potential for flooding."
River levels in the region were well below flood stage on Monday.
On the St. Joe at Calder, the river level was 7.6 feet and flood stage is 13 feet. On the river at St. Maries, the level was at 26.6 feet and flood stage is 32.5.
On the Coeur d'Alene River at Enaville, the water level was at 61.3 feet and flood stage is 73. Downstream at Cataldo, the level was 36.7 feet and flood stage is 43.
"The ice dam on the North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene broke up on Friday afternoon, so right now things are looking pretty good," said Cory Foster, OEM manager for Shoshone County.
Foster said there have been problems with freezing pipes in his area but no major flooding issues.
Foster said emergency coordinators are bracing for the next wave of flood threats.
"Spring meltoff will be an issue," he said. "You can always count on that."