Pemberville bracing for melting snow, flooding
Pemberville mayor Gordan Bowman is hoping that nearly a foot of snow melts real slow after expected 40-plus degree weather over the weekend.
The slower the better, he says, adding that while concerned, he is confident potential flooding won’t reach the same proportions as it did nine years ago.
In 2005, melting snow and heavy rains led to flooding that resulted in the National Guard coming into town while drawing national news coverage.
Throughout the day on January 13, news helicopters were spotted hovering over the village, and at least one of them represented national media. At one point the next morning on NBC’s Today show, Pemberville was specifically singled out as a victim of flooding in Ohio.
Then-mayor James Opelt himself counted 20 interviews he performed throughout the six days that national and local news media were in town. He said he even talked to relatives in Arizona and Florida who had heard about the flooding in Pemberville on national news.
In a downtown parking lot by the Portage River, hundreds of volunteers worked 24 hours setting up a dike system consisting of 18,000 sand bags and over 300 tons of sand to keep the rising water from damaging buildings.
For the most part, the efforts worked. Some homeowners living near the river were not so lucky. Many homeowners experienced rising water filling their basements to the brim and coming close to entering the first floor of the home itself.
Opelt said as many as 14 families were voluntarily evacuated from their riverside homes, and some homes were damaged to a tune of as much as $10,000 or more per house. In August 2007, flooding again hit villages along the Portage River, but it did not come close to levels reached in 2005.
Because of that experience, and other historic floods, Pemberville has become increasingly aware of potential damage to its downtown buildings. A Pemberville Disaster Relief Fund was established soon after that 2005 flood to help offset any future losses suffered by floods, or for that matter, other disasters, such as fire or tornadoes.
One of the owners of downtown buildings, Dennis Henline, is already planning what’s ahead when the snow began melting because of warmer temperatures and possible rain over the weekend.
“All we’re going to do is keep a gentle eye on it. We’re not going to spend any money or labor or anything,” said Henline, owner of Pemberville Home Improvement Center.
“The one day won’t be bad if we just get an inch or two (of rain), but if we get three inches, that will change our whole strategy. I think with the frozen snow drifts and stuff that we can handle one inch, but where we would have trouble would be two or three. Believe it or not, the river has not frozen, so we’re not going to have an ice jam that would create the flood,” Henline continued.
Henline said the village will not resort to sand bags, like they did in 2005.
“The only thing that would really create a problem would be the ten inches of snow we got plus two inches of rain, then we would probably not go with sand bags, but we’d probably go with dump trucks full of gravel and plastic and just make our own little barrier. Sand bags are a lot of work coming and going, but we’re going to use some tractors and dump trucks where we can build a temporary river just to protect the downtown businesses.”
He said in 2005, with snow on the ground temperatures suddenly Spring-like, leading to a quicker melt, but forecasters say that won’t happen this week.
“If we’d have a fast melt like that with two inches of rain, then we’re in trouble,” Henline said. “But looking at the long range, we go through 24 hours and then it’s supposed to get cold again at night, so some of the water will remain in the farm fields where we won’t have to deal with it right away.”