Flood superintendent keeping eye on river

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 16, 2004

A few feet makes all the difference to Ironton Floodwall and Street Superintendent Mike Pemberton.

Pemberton and city employees will continue keeping a close eye on the Ohio River today as it nears crest levels, waiting for the possibility of closing at least one of the city's floodgates.

The city has 18 flood gates that are closed when the river reaches dangerously high levels. The decision to close the gates is based on forecasts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and on the Ashland, Ky., water marks.

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If the river reaches 48 feet, the city prepares to close gate No. 10 at Second Street and Hicks Alley. As of 3:30 p.m. Thursday, the river was at 47 feet and rising at a rate of three-tenths of a foot per hour. The Army Corp of Engineers predicted that the Ohio will crest at 50 feet by 8 p.m. Friday, Pemberton said.

"We just have to use our discretion on whether to close it off or not," he said. "It is our call."

City employees began preparing late Thursday so that they can immediately start putting up the gate if it becomes necessary.

"Even 50 feet won't put the water up on the Storms Creek Bridge," Pemberton said. "If it hits 51, then we will see a little water on the bridge."

Although the Army Corps' forecasts are very accurate, they will start the process if the river levels exceed the 50 foot projection, he said.

Closing a flood gate is a six- to eight-hour process. Street department employees prepare the plates and I-beams inside the gatehouse are set with a crane. Once the steel and timber are set on the beams, the gate is covered with tar paper and sealed with sandbags at the bottom.

The traffic situation is the biggest reason for holding off on the decision, Pemberton said. All traffic into and out of North Ironton is routed across a dangerous railroad crossing where McPherson Street connects with U.S. 52.