PORT DEPOSIT — Port Deposit residents and leaders took a sigh of relief on Sunday, when they realized that their town along the Susquehanna River remained relatively dry after the National Weather Service had issued a flood warning one day earlier.
Cecil County Department of Emergency Services Director Wayne Tome Sr., who also serves as Port Deposit’s mayor, told the Cecil Whig on Monday that the town sustained little damage after 17 of the Conowingo Dam’s 52 spill, or floodgates, had been opened on Saturday to accommodate the bloated Susquehanna River.
The dam, which produces hydroelectric energy, is north of Port Deposit. Historically, the opening of the dam’s spill gates — to lessen the strain on the structure by allowing the river’s high, surging water to pass through the barrier and continue southward — has resulted in flooding, sometimes severe, in Port Deposit.
That was not the case this time, however. The water started receding and dam operators started closing the floodgates.
“We got a little bit of debris in the park and a little bit of water, and that’s about it,” Tome said, referring to Marina Park off Main Street in the southern part of the town.
Tome also reported that Route 222 reopened mid-morning Sunday, after a section of that thoroughfare between Canal and Moore Roads had been closed as a safety precaution one day earlier. That portion of Route 222 is adjacent to the river.
The NWS issued the flood warning for places in Cecil and Harford Counties “along the Susquehanna River below the Conowingo Dam,” noting that it would remain in effect from 9 a.m. Saturday until 12 p.m. Monday and that the warning was in “anticipation of forecasted moderate flooding as the Conowingo Dam is expected to start opening gates.”
Town officials issued a flood notification update to residents, explaining that, as of that point on Saturday, the Conowingo Dam had opened 17 flood gates and that the “expected crest” would be 20 to 22 opened gates between 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday morning. (Tome reported on Monday that the number of open floodgates never went higher than 17, before dam operators started closing them.)
“NO EVACUATION IS REQUIRED AT THIS TIME,” the notice read, before providing residents with the Conowingo Dam Spill Hotline number and also instructing them to check the CCDES and Port Deposit Facebook sites if they wanted to monitor the situation.
“Please remove items from the lower level of your home. If you need to move your vehicle, please park along Center Street (Route 276) . . .,” the notice also instructed.
Members of the Water Witch Volunteer Fire Co. of Port Deposit went door-to-door and issued those written notices to residents on North Main Street and on Ratledge Lane, sections of the town that are most vulnerable during flood conditions, according to Tome.
“We wanted to err on the side of caution,” Tome said, adding that the list of suggested precautions included moving property up from basements and moving vehicles parked in low-lying areas.
The lines of communication between officials with Port Deposit, Harford County, the CCDES, MEMA and Exelon — the company that owns the dam — remained open throughout the warning period and there was a “real-time” dissemination of information, Tome reported.
As of midnight Sunday, there were nine floodgates open at the dam — eight fewer than there were several hours earlier that day, according to Tome.