Niagara Gazette

January 7, 2014

Ice jam threatens power intakes

Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Amidst blizzard warnings due to expire this morning crews from both sides of the border have been battling the steady buildup of ice near the New York Power Authority intakes in the upper Niagara River. 

Ice jams there could drastically affect operations at the New York Power Authority and severely reduce generation at the Robert Moses Plant in Lewiston and the intakes of the Sir Adam Beck hydroelectric plants on the Ontario side.

On Tuesday, the two ice breaker tugs — the William H. Latham and the Niagara Queen 11 — were pressed into service to break ice jams in the river. Michael Saltzman, public relations director for the Power Authority, said the plant's power generation operations have not been affected and NYPA is meeting its customers' electric power requirements.

Earlier in the day, the National Weather Service issued a  "Flash Flood Warning" for the Upper Niagara River that included the City of Niagara Falls. especially Cayuga Island in the LaSalle area, and a low-lying area on the Robert Moses Parkway.

While Mother Nature dealt a nasty blow of sub-zero temperatures — with driving bans in many Western New York communities and countless cancellations of events and happenings — there was a flip side to the storm that topped some of the worst conditions here in decades. The Niagara Falls State Park, including ice-coated trees around Goat Island and the solid ice bridge below the falls created a picturesque postcard to promote Niagara's No. 1 off-season attraction.

For LaSalle resident Nick Ruffolo, the ice-choked river and blasts of frigid air was a little more than what he ever imagined when he moved into his Rivershore Drive home a couple of months ago. "It's my first winter in this place and the water seems to have crested right up to the breakwall. My neighbor's dock looks like it's just stuck in the ice."

Steve Zafuto, another Rivershore Drive resident, is not that close to the waterfront but he could clearly see " the water on docks and shore" that appeared to be creeping toward his neighbors' homes. Zafuto and other island residents confirmed that Mayor Dyster and emergency crews from the city were keeping close tabs on the changing conditions all around the island. "The police have been by constantly to check for any safety problems," Zafuto added.

Longtime area residents were recalling that one of the worst ice jams in the upper Niagara River occurred in 1955. During that spell, massive ice floes from Lake Erie pushed into the river and wiped out docks, storage facilities among other waterfront properties the length of the 35-mile waterway to Youngstown.

The severe ice jams were reduced to a somewhat manageable scale by 1964 when the International Joint Commission approved the installation of the Lake Erie-Niagara River Ice Boom that prevents a glut of ice from clogging the power company intakes and damaging riverfront properties. Under the international agreement, the boom (steel pontoons anchoring the 22 spans) is installed at the headwaters of the river, near the Peace Bridge. The boom is to be installed by Dec. 16 or when the Lake Erie water temperature reaches 39 degrees (F) and removed by April 1 unless there is more than 250 square miles of ice remaining in the eastern end of the lake.