Responding to forecasts of further rain, Portsmouth officials decided Wednesday to again err on the side of caution and ordered the erection of several more flood wall gates around the city.
City Manager Derek Allen said a wall would go up Wednesday evening at Front and Court streets. Further walls likely will go up today and Friday, according to Allen and Portsmouth Supervisor of Flood Defense Mark Puckett, both of whom added the decision was made to put up further walls based on weather forecasts coming from the National Weather Service.
Allen said the city has specific guidelines spelling out when the floodgates should be put in place.
“You wait too long, and you’re in a world of hurt,” Allen added.
Allen said Portsmouth has 15 gates in total.
“The plan is to have most of those in place by Friday,” he continued. “This is a new experience. We decided we’re going to be proactive.”
The city last erected its flood walls on an emergency basis in 1997, although during the past few years, the city has had practice exercises putting up 12 of those gates. Allen noted no one has ever put up the gate that could cross 11th Street, the reason being traffic would have to be diverted with the help of the Ohio Department of Transportation. He said the city would only put up that gate now if floodwaters reached the 11th Street bridge.
The city also will hold off on putting up any gates that require the removal of railroad tracks, Allen continued.
Brian Coniglio, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Wilmington, said that prior to Wednesday, the river had crested locally at just over 51 feet. He noted that flood stage for the Ohio River through Portsmouth is 50 feet. Coniglio said he expected the river to drop slightly below flood stage Wednesday night and into early Thursday morning. But he also quickly added it would likely rise above flood stage again Saturday and into Sunday.
“They are wise to put those up,” Coniglio said regarding Portsmouth erecting additional flood walls.
As far as local precipitation goes, Coniglio said rain is expected on and off through Saturday. He predicted a drying out arriving Sunday and early next week, but quickly added any dry spells are likely to be short-lived. As have others in talking about potential flooding in Portsmouth, Coniglio said the city must take into account water from the entire Ohio River basin.
“We have to worry about what goes on upstream,” he said.
Responding to possible flooding threats, the city first put up flood walls Sunday evening, starting on Third Street and on Madison Street. On Monday, local and county officials brought in the Ohio National Guard’s 1191st Engineer Company to help put up gates on Second Street and possibly other spots around town. OnWednesday, both Allen and Puckett said there were no plans to call the National Guard back into service. Allen said city police, firefighters and other workers all will be helping to put up additional walls in the next few days. He did not know the cost of putting up further walls, but said the city was tracking those figures in case there is an opportunity to recoup that money down the line.
Allen said one question which had not been answered as of Wednesday afternoon was what to do regarding residences in the Alexander Point area, residences which sit between the river and the nearest flood wall. Just prior to the wall going up on Second Street, police went door-to-door and informed residents of a voluntary evacuation. Again, speaking Wednesday afternoon, Allen noted that no decision had been made with regards the possibility of a mandatory evacuation in that area.
Reach Tom Corrigan at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931.