River veteran says ice is giving the area a break

PARKERSBURG – As a riverboat captain and property owner, R.C. “Heck” Heckert’s seen a lot along the Little Kanawha River.

But watching Wednesday as large chunks of ice and debris flowed down the center of the river while the water on either side remained coated with solid sheets of ice was a new experience.

“Since 1969 I’ve been living on this river – never seen that before,” Heckert said, noting the water usually flows along the sides, causing the ice to tear away trees and portions of the bank.

“(It looks like) the back water from the Ohio lifted the ice and started flowing through the middle,” he said. “This is the best case we could have.”

Ice was on the minds of river-watchers as well as folks traveling by land and those not planning to leave the house Wednesday after sleet and freezing rain began falling Tuesday evening.

About a tenth to two-tenths of an inch of ice accumulation was reported to the National Weather Service in Charleston. Many local crews were out in the overnight and early morning hours treating roadways and attempting to clear catch basins so the melting ice and snow could drain properly instead of accumulating on streets.

The weather caused power outages for a few thousand Mon Power customers in and around Wood County. More than 2,300 were in the Parkersburg area, with Rockport, Mineral Wells and Waverly among the hardest hit, said Greg Hefner, manager of external affairs for FirstEnergy, of which Mon Power is a part.

“We had significant ice loading and downed trees that resulted in significant line damage in the Parkersburg area,” he said.

There were still about 500 customers without power as of 5 p.m. Wednesday. The majority of power was expected to be restored by midnight, but isolated customers could still be without power today, Hefner said.

A mudslide toppled a tree, power line and large boulder along West Virginia 5 in Calhoun County near the Gilmer County line Wednesday morning, said Wayne Duffield, crew supervisor with the West Virginia Division of Highways office in Calhoun County. FirstEnergy’s website reported there were 44 customers still without power just before 5 p.m., but it was not immediately clear whether that was related to the slide.

Duffield said he was not sure when the road would be reopened.

Although no significant increase in the number of accidents was reported to the Wood County 911 Center Wednesday morning and early afternoon, scanner traffic indicated multiple instances of cars sliding off of roads starting around 4:30 p.m. and reports of black ice at 5:30.

As of 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Wood County 911 Center reported 35 accidents, most of which occurred Wednesday afternoon. Four of these accidents resulted in injuries, officials said.

In Athens County, a tractor-trailer carrying a slurry-like substance reportedly overturned on U.S. 50 between Guysville and Coolville around midnight Tuesday, according to a post on the Athens County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page. A dispatcher with the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s Athens post said the slurry-like material was not hazardous, but traffic had to be rerouted while it was cleaned up and the truck was righted.

For more than a week, ice has accumulated on area rivers, and as temperatures rose the last couple of days, it began breaking apart and flowing downstream. A massive flow accumulated along the Little Kanawha River in Wood County on Tuesday, leaving Heckert wary of what would happen when it started moving again.

The ice broke loose near his Happy Valley home around 7:15 a.m. Wednesday, and Heckert said he was pleased to see it moving in the middle of the river instead of damaging the banks.

Although the flow Wednesday wasn’t as bad as it could have been, there were plenty of tree limbs, barrels and pieces of docks floating along with the ice.

Caught in the flow of ice Wednesday morning were a towboat and barge used to transport equipment to and from Blennerhassett Island, along with a concessionaire’s pontoon boat tied up along the Little Kanawha.

where it opens onto the Ohio River.

“The ice jam that came blasting through there this morning broke 2-inch lines,” said Matthew Baker, superintendent of Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park.

Baker, along with the assistant superintendent- who’d been stuck on the island with his wife and dogs for more than a week because of the ice- and the maintenance supervisor pursued the runaway vessels on another pontoon boat.

“(We) were able to get on board the barge just up the river from the island,” Baker said. “The water was real swift.”

They steered the barge to the Ohio side of the river and tied it up at Civitan Park in Belpre. Baker said the boats should be back in their normal spot by today.

“The Little Kanawha’s still unpredictable at the moment, and there’s still ice coming out of it,” he said Wednesday afternoon.

Lockmasters along the Ohio River have been dealing with ice on the water for days.

At the Willow Island Locks and Dam, the strategy is to lock the ice through the auxiliary chamber while keeping boats moving through the main one as much as possible, lockmaster Billy G. Collins said.

“We’re locking it through as it comes through,” he said.

To guide the ice where they want it to go, the upper gate on the auxiliary lock is set about four feet below normal pool and the lower gate is opened, assistant lockmaster Mike Moretto said. Ideally, this draws the water into that chamber and sends the ice over the top and through.

Down river at the Belleville Locks and Dam, assistant lockmaster Buck Douglas said they’re trying to move the ice by setting the bulkheads then raising them gradually.

“Usually (the ice) hits the bulkhead and sucks itself underneath the bulkhead,” he said. “And then when it comes out it’s usually slush.”

Douglas said he hadn’t had a boat come through all day Wednesday, but expected a couple headed up the river from Racine, Ohio, overnight. Those would hopefully break up some of the ice.