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Ice jams causing concerns of possible flooding on Kankakee River

Large chunks of ice are seen Monday in the Kankakee River near Cottage Road in Wilmington, Ill.
Large chunks of ice are seen Monday in the Kankakee River near Cottage Road in Wilmington, Ill.

WILMINGTON – Ice jams on the Kankakee River along Cottage Road in Wilmington, and upriver at Warner Bridge Road in Kankakee County are causing concerns for county officials and residents.

River ice is backed up for at least a mile near Cottage Road, said Dennis Houseman, Will County coordinator for the Will County Emergency Management Agency.

No homes have been evacuated yet because the river is still flowing beneath the ice jam, but the potential for flooding and ice damage could threaten residences on both Cottage and Willow roads, Houseman said.

"This is a major ice jam," Houseman said. "This is the thickest the ice has been in a long time. This stuff is very strong and crystal clear, a really hard, solid ice."

Will County officials have closed Warner Bridge Road at Illinois 102, about 13.5 miles southeast of Wilmington, as a second ice jam has begun piling up against the road bridge there that bisects Kankakee River State Park.

Kankakee County EMA officials have requested civil engineers examine the structure, Houseman said. Kankakee County EMA was unavailable for comment Monday.

At either location, there's little that the anyone can do now besides watch and wait.
Still, John Vogrin of Shorewood, who owns a summer home on Cottage Road, was hauling out furniture Monday morning. Ice already has crept over the bank, across his backyard and is now building up on the edge of the house.

"It's time to evacuate," Vogrin said, as he carried kitchen chairs, a table and wrought iron furniture into his van. "I'm basically getting out anything of any value."

A few houses to the east, Ken Shetina of Coal City stopped Monday to check on his friend's cottage. Ice here was still about 25 feet from the house, but a stairway down to the river was likely gone.

"I didn't know it was this bad," Shetina said, shaking his head.

Another half-mile downstream, Kim Highbaugh was doing the same. Unlike the owners of summer homes, she lives here year-round.

Her home is on a bend near the leading edge of the ice jam which, for the moment at least, appears to be veering away from her house.

"We're still trying to decide whether to put our stuff in the back for safekeeping or take it out and store it somewhere else," Highbaugh said. For now, she plans to wait.

Highbaugh said the jam started Saturday with a sound like crackling thunder.

She's seen jams before on the river in her 23 years here, but never in front of her house. And the jams always moved away. This one hasn't yet.

"This year the river froze fast and quick," Highbaugh said. "And then it snowed on top of it. It hasn't had a chance to melt much."

An 18-inch thick slab of river ice upturned on the bank near her back porch confirmed her point.

At Warner Road Bridge, the ice jam drew dozens of sightseers, many of whom made the roundtrip south to Illinois 113 for access after finding bridge access from the north blocked by Will County Sheriff's Police at Illinois 102.

Ice appeared to be at the bottom of the bridge's road deck, though at least one small jam a few yards upstream was level with the top railing.

Marc Acevedo of Bradley was one of many people who braved the cold and mile-long walk down to the bridge to view the ice. He said he was surprised by the amount of ice that had built up in a relatively shallow part of the river.

"I do a lot of fishing here," Acevedo said. "It's not too deep. A lot of people will come out here with waders."

Toots and John Holmes drove from Morris to see the acres of river ice piled up behind the bridge.

"It's amazing, it really is when think this should be a river," Toots Holmes said.

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