Flood Debris Choking Part Of Kentucky River

By Tony McVeigh, Kentucky Public Radio

Debris left behind by last month’s Kentucky River flood is still partially blocking navigable waters in Frankfort. 

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Jammed between two pillars of the railroad bridge that crosses the Kentucky River into downtown Frankfort are the burned-out and twisted remains of a large, floating dock.  An island of garbage and debris encases the tangled wall of aluminum, which has been stuck between the pilings since last month’s record flood.  It’s been Frankfort Emergency Management Director Derron Rambo’s job to find out where the dock came from and how to get rid of it.

“It was a floating restaurant from the Boonesboro area that was destroyed in a fire back in the spring, or back in the winter, in March,” said Rambo.  “And then during the flood, it got loose and moved down river as a debris pile, picking up debris as it traveled down the river – and then just the stuff that burned and was left on the dock from the fire.”

On May 5th, after two days of unrelenting rainfall, the Kentucky River at Frankfort rose nearly 12 feet above flood stage, to almost 43 feet.  Numerous homes outside the city’s flood wall took on water, resulting in personal property losses, but there were no major evacuations or loss of life.  Mostly, the flood left behind huge piles of debris, like the tangled mess beneath the railroad bridge.

“It does block part of the navigation channel,” said Rambo.  “And the other concern is, it obviously could get loose if the river came back up and do more damage.  Do damage to the downstream bridges, which are currently being used.  Or pose a danger to the lock and dam.”

Lock and Dam #4 is a half mile downstream, and that’s where more flood debris is visible.  What’s left of a shanty boat rests, upside down, on the steeply sloped river bank high above the lock.  Stephen Reeder of the Kentucky River Authority says the craft’s owner apparently floated the houseboat over the lock at high water and tied it off, but the flood waters receded so fast, the vessel flipped over and collapsed.            

“The boat does have an owner,” said Reeder. “Owner apparently does not have the resources as far as we know to remove it.  So, we intend to move it and if we can find him, we’re gonna take it to some place he wants it to be and let him have it back.”

Reeder says the removal estimate is around $3,200, and since the lock and dam are federal property, there’s grant money available for the job.  Derron Rambo says the city plans to use a FEMA grant to remove the dock debris upstream.  That project, which starts next week, will cost around $80,000.

“We have a professional marine salvage company coming into town, with boats and heavy equipment,” said Rambo.  “And they will actually dismantle and cut apart this dock and trap all the debris and all the debris around it – all the coke bottles and basketballs and stuff it’s trapped while it’s been there.  That will be loaded up onto a boat or a barge and then put in dumpsters and taken to a landfill to be disposed of.”

Rambo and Frankfort Mayor Gippy Graham are anxious to see the debris piles gone and the Kentucky River again flowing freely.  And both are thankful the city was spared a major disaster in the 2010 flood.

“We were fortunate because it could have been much worse,” said Rambo.  “A couple of feet more of water would have caused many more problems, affected many more homes.”

“A little bit further and it would have gotten us a little bit more, but I was so pleased with the coordination that we have between the various responders during that period of time,” said Graham.  “So, we’re very fortunate.”

Frankfort’s worst flood occurred in 1978, when the Kentucky River crested at 48.4 feet.  The second worst was the Great Flood of 1937.  This year’s flood was the fifth worst on record.