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New power lines strung between Buffalo and Fort Erie

A helicopter stringing nylon rope across the Niagara River early Sunday morning between Buffalo’s West Side and Fort Erie, Ont., marked the near completion of a roughly $5 million, two-nation power line project. The project connects U.S. power provided by National Grid to a power grid run by Canadian Niagara Power.

Traffic along the Niagara Thruway near the Peace Bridge was disrupted for most of the morning as the project moved into its final phase in replacing a 100-year-old international power line. The new Canadian Niagara Power lines would primarily benefit Canadian customers but could spell opportunity for bigger power and data projects between the two regions in the future, said Canadian National Power spokeswoman Kristine Carmichael.

In the coming days, the relatively light nylon rope will be hooked to three heavy power lines, with a total capacity of 150 megawatts, as well as two steel lines that will serve as lightning protection and carry fiber-optic lines for data transmission, said Jie Han, Canadian Niagara Power’s vice president for operations.

The nylon guide ropes will be attached to the permanent lines and pulled across the river by ground machinery, Han said.

The most immediate purpose of the new connection is to provide emergency backup power to Fort Erie, Ont. The old power lines were de-energized in 2011, and in November of last year, crews detonated explosives to sever six of the existing 600-pound copper and steel cables that spanned 0.7 miles from tower to tower on each side of the river.

The old lattice-style towers in both countries were taken down, and three steel tubular towers rising nearly 200 feet were erected earlier this month on the Buffalo side. The five lines now being strung across the river will connect to similar new towers, rising 255 feet, in Fort Erie.

The new lines should be operational by the end of the year, with heavy construction equipment and cones finally leaving the short stretch of Busti Avenue that connects Niagara Street to the Thruway near the Peace Bridge by early next month, Han said.

The helicopter work Sunday morning diverted northbound traffic from the Niagara Thruway in that area for about five hours starting at 6 a.m., while southbound traffic was intermittently halted between 8 and 11 a.m. when the helicopter flew overhead to carry rope across from Busti Avenue, near the river, to Canada. Rail and river traffic was also temporarily disrupted.

Crews from National Grid worked with O’Connell Electric to string the new lines across the river Sunday, while law enforcement on both sides of the river coordinated traffic safety efforts. A blue helicopter carried a long, weighted line from one point to the next, while two orange-suited crew members on the Buffalo side stood in a yellow, metal basket hanging from a towering overhead crane. They retrieved the dangling helicopter line and attached new nylon rope to it.

The overall project has required the coordination of more than 50 agencies, Carmichael said.

While the new lines will provide backup power to Canadian Niagara Power’s 15,500 customers in Fort Erie, Carmichael said the power and data lines also have the ability to serve three times that number of households.