Schenectady County

Tugboat along Mohawk commended for helping to prevent significant ice jamming, reducing flood risk

Large chunks of ice flow in Mohawk River near Freeman’s Bridge in Schenectady on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022.

Large chunks of ice flow in Mohawk River near Freeman’s Bridge in Schenectady on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022.

By all accounts, the tugboat Margot looks to have played a vital role in preventing any flooding in low lying areas of Schenectady County as an ice jam made its way down the Mohawk River Friday. 

“I think we had a spectacular ice out,” said John Garver, a geology professor at Union College, who had been out early Friday morning watching as the ice moved along the river. 

It is considered a norm for ice jamming to happen below Lock 8, in what is considered the Schenectady Pool area, as the ice moves downstream. 

“What’s remarkable was this time we didn’t get jams in the Schenectady Pool and the only difference is the ice breaking,” Garver said. “I think it’s pretty clear the ice breaking did lessen the impact. In fact we didn’t have any jams specifically below Lock 8 and that is probably a really remarkable success of the ice jam program and the reimagine the canal effort to mitigate the flooding.”

As part of a program under the direction of the state’s Canal Corporation and Power Authority, the tugboat had been slowly moving along a portion of the river with a single mission: break the ice on the surface to potentially lessen ice jams and therefore flooding. Officials with the program, now in its second year, place a heavy emphasis on the word potentially.

The tugboat was out all day Thursday breaking up the sheet of ice between Locks 8 and 7, said Mark LaViolette, the director of the Schenectady County Emergency Management Office. 

“We dodged a bullet, it looks like,” he said, noting a huge appreciation for the Canal Corp’s and Power Authority’s ice breaking initiative. 

The first ice jam occurred in Cranesville at Lock E10, just outside of Amsterdam around 8 a.m. Garver, along with some other people, continued to follow the ice as it jammed, then broke through several times. 

“What happens is the front of this thing moves – it’s almost like a freight train coming out of the station and sort of all the cars following behind,” Garver said. “It comes through gets jammed up, it comes through gets jammed up, it comes through gets jammed up. What it’s doing is it’s sort of plowing it’s way forward and breaking up all the sheet ice along the way.”

Garver said it got jammed up at Lock E10, hung up in Lock 9, then again in front of Schenectady International between Locks 9 and 8 and then finally Lock 8. 

Garver was just about to head back toward the city to get ready to teach his class around 11 a.m. when the jam finally broke at Lock 8 and mounds of broken up ice, with some tree branches here and there, could be seen steadily moving downstream. 

The ice continued to flow through the afternoon and didn’t get stuck around the Stockade area, which has been prone to flooding from ice jams in the past. 

Part of that was due to the tugboat and also the fact that there wasn’t a lot of water coming through all at once, which would have complicated matters. Garver said the original forecast was for double the amount of water the river saw Friday. 

“The primary ice jam threat is over for the year,” he said.

Ingersoll Avenue resident Susan DuFour was delighted the Stockade didn’t flood. She happened to be home for the day watching the river and temperatures.

During this time, two hydrologists from the U.S. Geological Survey New York Water Science Center were also out on Freemans Bridge relocating a gauge that measures water velocity. The gauge is part of the center’s efforts to monitor the flow of the river, said Christopher Gazoorian, a surface water specialist with the center. 

He said they were also monitoring the jam and will be continuing to watch water levels along the river, as there is still a lot of water flowing through the area. Around 3:30 p.m. Friday, the water flow at Freemans Bridge measured 30,000 cubic feet per second, which was pretty high, Gazoorian said. 

Garver said he was a little surprised by the number of people that were out checking the water levels and catching a glimpse of the ice moving along the river.

In many ways Friday’s events are a turning point–a sign that Spring is ahead, Garver said.

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