The Lake Erie ice pack was making waves along Buffalo’s waterfront Thursday as the Miss Buffalo, high-school rowing coaches and others anxious to get out on the water raced to dodge the floating ice chunks.
Upstream near the ice boom, the 77-ton ice breaker William H. Latham chugged through an ice pack so tenacious it encapsulated some of the two-ton steel pontoons that comprise the boom.
The slow process of removing the 8,800-foot boom gave the Miss Buffalo crew a chance to pilot the popular tour boat from its winter roost at Rich Marine Sales in Black Rock to Erie Basin Marina, where the boat will undergo its annual spring spruce-up.
“Today we just got lucky,” said Ryan Hayhurst, vice president of Buffalo Harbor Cruises, the family-owned company entering its 44th season of Miss Buffalo tours. “The winds didn’t blow the ice our way, which is fortunate because we’re not equipped to travel through ice.”
It was opening day at Erie Basin, where across the parking lot some scholastic rowing coaches also were concerned about floating ice.
“Once the ice comes in, it blocks our access to the Buffalo River and our dock on Ohio Street about a half-mile upriver from the old Aud,” said Thomas Boyer, vice president of the Buffalo Scholastic Rowing Association and head rowing coach at Mount Mercy Academy.
“Between the ice boom and the wind, once the boom is gone, the ice will flow right to the mouth of the harbor here,” said Tommy Flaherty, Canisius High School rowing coach.
The coaches, including Robert Becht, assistant coach at Canisius, have been thwarted in previous years by the ice.
“From experience we know that the prevailing southwest wind will blow the ice into the harbor,” Becht said. “We couldn’t launch from here last week because the marina was closed.”
Meanwhile, out past the breakwater and the Buffalo water intake, the New York Power Authority’s 10-man crew continued to dismantle the ice boom with the help of the Latham.
“Even the ice breaker will have a tough time cutting through 100 square miles,” said Paul Yu, chief of water management for the Army Corps of Engineers.
Right now the thickness of the ice is the issue.
About 20 percent of the ice boom had been cleared by the start of Thursday’s effort, opening the way for the Latham to loosen ice behind the boom.
“By this time of year the ice is usually fairly soft,” Yu said, “That is not the case this year.”
The International Joint Commission has set guidelines for the installation and removal of the ice boom. “It’s been a cold year, and it’s one of the years that ice is very thick, thicker than usual,” Yu said. “And that is the problem. We have to look at the quality of the ice and the thickness. It’s stubborn in that they can’t free the steel platoons.”
Work to remove the boom got off to a slow start Tuesday when efforts were halted by high winds and ice as much as three feet thick in some places. The crew Wednesday was forced to skip sections of the boom because of the ice mass, said Yu, who pointed to a directive issued by the IJC that the boom must be out within two weeks of the beginning of removal.
That would make the deadline may 12 this year, Yu said.
“Of course safety is a priority,” he noted. Each winter since 1964, the authority has installed the ice boom, which extends from the outer breakwater at Buffalo Harbor almost to the Canadian shore.