NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. - An ice jam upriver from New Kensington's Ninth Street Bridge is creating navigation problems on the Allegheny River.
The jam, estimated to be 5 to 6 feet high, is near 16th Street in Arnold, about a half-mile from the bridge connecting New Kensington with East Deer.
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The Army Corps of Engineers sent personnel out Wednesday to assess the situation, according to Sheila Tunney, a Corps spokeswoman.
She said the barge towboat “Mary Rose,” from Imperial Towing in Imperial, tried to navigate through the jam with two empty barges but was forced to turn around.
Nobody at the towing company was available to comment when contacted by the Valley News Dispatch.
“It's a pretty significant ice jam,” said Lt. j.g. Devin Adams of the Coast Guard detachment headquartered in Ross. “We are currently in communication with the National Weather Service and the Waterways Association of Pittsburgh to make sure we are all on the same page.
“We're preparing in case this ice jam releases and poses any significant threat to the assets that any industry possesses.”
He said the Coast Guard began issuing warnings about river ice on Tuesday, describing them as “safety advisories” aimed at any industries along the river with barge traffic.
He said the advisories will remain in effect until the jam no longer poses a threat.
That could happen soon, he said, with warmer weather and rain forecast in the next few days.
Light rain is forecast for Friday. There's a 90 percent chance for Saturday with between one-quarter and a half-inch of rain expected.
“At this point, we are just assessing and monitoring the situation,” Adams said. “We're still kind of in the waiting phase. Hopefully, it stays stagnant and the precipitation will melt it in place. That's kind of the best case scenario.”
Adams said the Allegheny has the most significant ice of the region's three rivers.
There is some ice on the Ohio River near the Emsworth Dam but no ice jams and minor ice formed on the Monongahela River.
Dan Jones, another spokesman for the Army Corps, said a corps official who viewed the jam Wednesday estimated that it could be gone by Sunday.
According to Jones, the river level is normal and as of Wednesday appeared in no danger of flooding.
“Could it change? Absolutely,” he said. He said heavy rain could change that.
He advised people living close to the river to “keep an eye on the river level“ for the next few days when rain is forecast.
Lewis Kwett, a hydrologist for the Army Corps, also thinks flooding is unlikely.
“We've heard the height of the ice jam is 5 or 6 feet high, but that is still considerably lower than the top of the riverbank,” Kwett said. “That's still below flood stage.”
Kwett said the formation of ice on the Allegheny River went counter to recent history when it has been a gradual process.
“The river temperature was 36 degrees and there was no ice,” Kwett said. “In my 25 years of working with the Army Corps of Engineers, I cannot say that I have seen ice form this quickly on the Allegheny River.”
He said the river temperature at the C.W. Bill Young Lock and Dam (Lock No. 3) in Plum, was 35.5 degrees on Jan. 1 and by Monday, Jan. 6, it had dropped to 32 degrees.
Kwett said the worst case scenario is if the temperature remains as cold as it has been and more ice is generated. Right now, he said, the ice is not very thick so water is flowing beneath the surface.
“I think this is very likely that this will resolve itself without any significant impact,” Kwett said.