Ohio River Ice

Over the past weeks, subzero and single digit temperatures have created large sheets of ice in the Ohio River. This view is looking west from the William Harsha Bridge.

It would be difficult to miss the large chunks of ice flowing along the Ohio River Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning, around 9 a.m., a solid piece of ice covered the majority of the river. By afternoon, most of the ice had broken into chunks but remained frozen.

Maysville Utility Commission Manager Darren Garrison said the ice covering the river on Wednesday was probably less than an inch thick and the river was not considered fully frozen over.

Garrison also said that even though chunks of ice can cause problems, there were no concerns with the utility commission, as the water intake for the city comes from the bottom of the river.

"We aren't concerned," he said. "Our intake is at the bottom of the river. If someone were to use floating intakes, then they would have a problem with the ice, but for us, the river could freeze over 10 inches thick and it wouldn't affect us."

At the Meldahl Dam on the Ohio River near Foster in Bracken County, crews are used to dealing with icy conditions in the winter and have a plan to combat those problems.

Corp of Engineers Public Affairs Officer Brian Maka said the ice can often cause issues when vessels pass through. When chunks of ice are present, the dam's emergency gates will open, allowing ice to pass through safely, so they are not pulled into chambers.

"The ice can flow into our chambers when the vessels pass through," Maka said. "We have emergency gates that are lifted when the ice is present, in order to keep problems from occurring."

This is the second time the river has frozen in the last few years.

In 2014, there were chunks of ice spotted along the river in Lewis County. At that time, according to Electric Plant Board Superintendent Bill Tom Stone, about 15 percent of the river had frozen into chunks near Vanceburg. In the Black Oak area, around 25 percent of the river had frozen.

According to Stone, that was the first time, since 1978, that he had seen ice form so quickly.

"I remember being out of school for a month that year," he said.  "We got probably 10 to 12 inches of snow and then temperatures plummeted.  The entire river froze over, except for the middle section where barges were continuously moving through.  But, if a barge didn't go through for a while, the center of the river froze, too."

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Stone said he has an old picture of a friend who walked a few feet onto the river to stand on the ice.

Maysville Mayor David Cartmell had also reminisced about the winter of 1978, when the river froze for three weeks.

"It was brutal," he said. "The worst part was when the ice broke up. It blocked the Meldahl Dam. Some barges sunk up against the dam, so Captain John Beatty was hired to go up and clear out the ice and help raise the barges."

Cartmell said Beatty's tugboat, the Claire Beatty, sunk up against the dam, as well.

"He wasn't able to get the barges out," Cartmell said. "Instead, it wound up sinking his boat, too."


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