Fort Kent builds levee to prevent future flooding

FORT KENT, Maine - Fort Kent officials are hopeful a construction project, undertaken this year, will help prevent future floods. Kathy McCarty spoke with the director of community development on what the project means to the town.

The town of Fort Kent is unique, with the St. John and Fish rivers bordering the community. While picturesque, spring flooding can cause both rivers to rise, putting parts of the town in peril. In the 1970s the levee on the St. John River was designed and built to withstand a 100-year flood - or 29 feet, with a three-foot extension added later.

"This 800-foot section from the Fish River Bridge to the Block House - this is also to withstand a 100-year flood, but it's at 29 feet. It doesn't have the three feet that the St. John River had."

In 2008, the issue was water backing up from the St. John into the Fish River, leading to a serious flood. Pelletier credits Public Works Director Tony Theriault for creating a temporary berm using gravel along the road leading to the Block House, which prevented downtown flooding. Rather than putting money into temporary fixes like sandbags and gravel, the rock-wall levee will provide the same protection for the Fish River that the St. John has.

"For 10 years, this is a project that's been dreamed of - specifically this funding project, to make this work, has been ongoing for four years. We've received funding through hazard mitigation through FEMA, Northern Border Regional Commission, Community Development Block Grant and local funds as well."

The new levee will help keep flood waters at bay, providing added protection along the Fish River.

"The flood event we had in 2008, the heighth of the water and the amount of water was more of a - between a 200- and 500-year flood, and it came within inches of coming over the St. John River at that time. So now we have the same protection here, and it's much more protection for the residents and the businesses in town."

Pelletier says the project cost upwards of $800,000. He adds the cost will not affect taxpayers, since the municipal portion comes from reserve funds. Despite an early start to our snow season, next spring's potential for flooding will be determined by both snow melt and rainfall, as major river flooding does not come from snowmelt alone.