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Niagara River ice boom removal marks rite of spring

Updated: 04/15/08 6:56 AM

The ice boom goeth. This morning, New York Power Authority crews begin removal of the Niagara River ice barrier.

“We did a flyover of the eastern end of Lake Erie [Monday] morning, and based on that reconnaissance, we can begin the removal process,” said Power Authority spokesman Michael Salzman.

Under International Joint Commission rules governing use of the ice boom, it must be removed by April 1, or when the ice pack of Lake Erie’s eastern basin is 250 square miles or less. The ice pack currently measures 120 square miles.

It is expected to take several days for the 1.7-mile-long ice barrier to be removed from the entrance to the Niagara River, between Buffalo and Fort Erie, Ont.

“Our crews will be going out [this] morning with a barge to start pulling it out,” Salzman said. “As long as weather remains favorable, they can keep working.”

The boom is installed each winter to prevent ice damage to downstream water intakes for hydropower.

The barrier, which is made up of 22 pontoons, each 500 feet long, will be loaded up and hauled back to its longtime off-season resting place at Buffalo’s outer harbor. The Power Authority vowed three years ago to stop storing the massive ice blocker on the 13-acre site but so far has failed to find an alternative.

Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., which will ultimately gain control of the prime waterfront site under the Power Authority’s federal relicensing agreement of 2007, has been pressuring the authority to take steps to make sure that 2008 marks the boom’s last return.

The earliest date the boom was pulled was March 5, 1998, and the latest, May 3, 1971. Last year, the boom was retrieved April 10.