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Niagara River boaters will sail under European guidance this summer, thanks to a Coast Guard experiment being conducted in local waters.

A British-made "sector light" is being evaluated here for the United States Coast Guard as a possible replacement for two light towers known as the Grand Island Range Lights.

"We've been having problems with the rear range because of the growth of the trees," Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Hank Murak said.

Range lights typically use a short light tower at the water's edge and a taller one farther inland. By aligning the lights or the high-visibility tower markings, a mariner can stay in the middle of a deep-water channel.

The box-like British sector light uses a single structure with a directional light that appears as a white light to a boater in mid-channel, or as a red or green light to boaters nearing either side of the channel.

The Grand Island Range, with a shoreline light near an inlet north of the Buffalo Launch Club and a rear range light about three blocks inland, marks a turn in the serpentine east river channel of the Niagara, near the Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. plants.

Two other ranges in this area, the upper and lower Strawberry Cut ranges with shoreline lights along the Niagara Thruway and inland lights in West Side yards, also mark turns in the channel.

Tree growth is a common problem with the inland lights, requiring either major periodic trimming or the relocation and heightening of the light towers to maintain visibility from the water.

Clearing the rear Grand Island Range light would require tree-trimming on the property of 15 to 25 homeowners, some of whom are reluctant to cooperate.

Although the new light, at $3,000, is three times as expensive as the optic system in a range light tower, it promises long-term maintenance and operational savings.

The existing range light towers will remain in place while the Coast Guard conducts the evaluation, which has drawn favorable comments from commercial shippers so far.

The sector light is believed to be the first such light tested by the American maritime agency, although the Canadian coast guard is using two in the St. Lawrence River. Boaters wishing to comment on the new light can contact Murak at the Coast Guard's Fuhrmann Boulevard base.

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