New York Power Authority crews started to dismantle the ice boom Tuesday morning, but they were called off after removing just one of the 22 steel spans that stretch like a necklace across the outlet of Lake Erie.
Each span contains 10 two-ton steel pontoons. Add high winds, lake waters that are barely above freezing and 240 square miles of ice, and one can see why the crews were called off the demanding task.
“Winds and the wave setup were too hazardous to allow them to continue work. Plus if there’s a big ice field, the boat cannot get in safely to do the work,” said Peter Kowalski, front-line manager of operations for the Niagara River Control Center.
The 10-person crew set out shortly after 8:15 a.m. and started from the Canadian side, said Lou Paonessa, director of media relations for the Power Authority.
The work is expected to continue today, depending on weather conditions, Paonessa said.
The Niagara River Control Center in Niagara Falls, Ont., manages ice and river flow. It is part of the International Joint Commission, the governing body that ultimately decides when the boom will be removed.
IJC guidelines call for the booms’ removal by April 1 “unless there is more than 250 square miles of ice in the eastern basin of Lake Erie,” roughly from Long Point, Ont., to Erie, Pa., Kowalski said. “The later-than-normal removal is because of the extent of ice cover and cold winter and spring,” said Kowalski. “Typically this time of year you can be wearing short-sleeve shirts, but here it is the end of April and it’s only a few degrees above zero.”
On Monday, the ice was measured at 240 square miles.
Not everyone sees the need for an ice boom that is intended to block the ice flow from entering the Niagara Power Project water intakes along the Niagara River.
Joseph Barrett – a fisherman, science buff and ice boom opponent – has researched the boom and its effects on the environment for almost 20 years. The boom, Barrett said, prevents nutrient-laden ice from reaching Lake Ontario. In addition, Barrett said the ice acts like a giant scouring pad on the land it passes.
“Now we have a buildup of years of decay, and it’s like a fish tank that doesn’t get cleaned,” Barrett told The News in an interview published in 2011.
The earliest the boom was removed was in 2012 when work started Feb. 28 and ran through March 2. The latest boom removal in 1971 ran from May 3 May 14.
Kowalski declined to estimate how long it will take workers to remove the current boom. Weather conditions, he noted, and the amount of ice behind the boom are key variables.
The ice boom is made up of a series of floating steel pontoons, each 30 feet long and 30 inches in diameter. They are anchored to the bottom of the lake at 400-foot intervals by 76 steel cables, according to the IJC website. Workers using two tugboats, one crane, and a barge as a work station dismantle the boom, Kowalski said.
Each winter since 1964, the ice boom has been installed. It extends about 8,800 feet from the outer breakwall at Buffalo Harbor almost to the Canadian shore.
“Now that the work has begun, people can expect to see the ice chucks almost immediately,” said Paonessa. “If the ice is free, it will start moving; if not we can use the ice breakers, but usually at this time of the season once you start opening the boom the ice usually flows.”
As the ice starts to make its way along the river, residents can expect a temporary chill in the air as temperatures drop “only a couple of degrees,” Paonessa noted.
The National Weather Service forecast on Tuesday called for a 100 percent chance of showers and possibly a thunderstorm with a high temperature near 58 degrees and southeast winds of 6 to 9 mph.
“People want to blame the boom for causing a late spring, but that is not scientifically true,” Paonessa said. “Relicensing studies we commissioned in 2007 indicated that the boom itself doesn’t impact the temperature that much, less than a couple of degrees,” Paonessa said.
For a bird’s eye view of the process, visit www.iceboom.nypa.gov.