BRASHER FALLS - The New York state Department of Transportation closed the bridge crossing the St. Regis River in downtown Brasher Falls for approximately 12 hours.
C. Curtis Smith, a state Department of Transportation foreman from the Massena facility, said the bridge was reopened shortly before 11 a.m. Saturday after the ice let loose and opened up the river.
The bridge had been closed shortly after 11 p.m. Friday following consultation with local emergency services personnel.
"It was a joint decision between the DOT and emergency services. We were in contact with Deputy Fire Coordinator Frank Burns. We're worried about more ice coming down the river," he said.
"Right now it is not really a problem. But if that ice let's go, we could have a real problem in about 5 minutes," he noted early Saturday morning.
Mr. Smith said the bridge on state Route 11C over the St. Regis River had been the only major flooding concern in his Massena district. "We're also monitoring the bridge on the Route 420 extension (Maple Street) in Winthrop. Other than that we have been lucky so far," he said.
The DOT foreman said the river level has been high under the bridge for much of the winter. "It had been running underneath the ice all winter," he said.
A small island separates the river into two channels as it runs under the bridge. The west channel was jammed with ice Friday night, bringing the water level up approximately 15 feet from its normal summer level. "We had water on Factory Street at one point last night," Brasher Town Highway Superintendent Larry P. Hewlett said.
But the ice broke free in the west channel, dropping the water level several inches in that area. But the ice jam remains high on the east channel, where some chunks appear to actually be touching the bottom of the bridge.
Brasher Town Supervisor M. James Dawson said high water levels in the area near the bridge are a normal spring occurrence in downtown Brasher Falls. "We have high water every three or four years," he noted.
Mr. Dawson said the Army Corps of Engineers have visited the area a few years ago when there were major flooding concerns. "They told us we had a difficult geographic condition in this area. The river turns in an S fashion near the bridge, the water depth is shallow, the flow is rapid since it is just below the falls and there is bedrock under the water. It makes the right conditions for a natural barrier that tends to jam the river," he said.
He noted when he was visiting the site at approximately 8:30 a.m. the water level had reportedly stayed at the same level for the past few hours. "I don't think the bridge will move, but the forces of nature can be amazing," the Brasher town supervisor acknowledged.
"It has always been able to break a channel in the past. It gives a lot of folks a lot of angst until it happens," he pointed.
"If it stays cool and there is not a lot of rain that should help
The large piles of ice and the bloated rushing waters of the St. Regis drew a constant stream of onlookers to the deck at Erin's Isle restaurant and Factory Street to get a first hand look at the situation.
Mr. Hewlett saw several residents of Helena examining the situation. "They want to know what is coming their way," he said of the neighboring hamlet in the town of Brasher Falls that is separated by the St. Regis River.
Gary E. Munson of Munson's Store, located just a few hundred of yards from the bridge, said the high water and ice jam were the talk of the town. Mr. Munson and Billy Dougan walked up the bridge to take a first hand look at the situation and report back to Donald L. Roach, the other regular in their morning conversation at the store.
"All the people coming in the store are talking about it. Some of our customers are coming in with their rubber boots on," Mr. Munson said, pointing to Mr. Roach's fashion statement.
"We've been watching the ice built up there for awhile. This would have pushed that goose right out of the river," Mr. Munson added, referring to a goose that had been rescued earlier this winter after losing a leg when it was frozen in the river.
Mr. Munson said he hoped the weather conditions worked to ease the ice jam. "There was a lot of moisture that fell in that snow last night," he noted.
Mr. Hewlett had noted early Saturday morning it was difficult to predict how long the bridge would be closed. "This could be done in a couple of hours or it could be a week. You just don't know," he said.
The reopening of the bridge came just a short time before St. Patrick's festivities were scheduled to begin in nearby Helena, a celebration that frequently continues at Erin's Isle later in the day.