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Ice Boom gives Barrett a cold feeling

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Ice Boom gives Barrett a cold feeling



August 09, 2009

Will Elliott / www.buffalonews.com



During these warm summer days, Western New Yorkers rarely contemplate the presence and affects of the Ice Boom.


For North Tonawanda resident Joseph Barrett, that connected arch of metal “logs” anchored in place when water temperatures drop to somewhere near 38 degrees each fall-winter season is not a boom to ice movement, formation, and the waterway’s ecology in general.


“I’ve been a science nut since age 3,” the 48-year-old Barrett said as we inspected the Grand Island shoreline and access site at Fix Road. Coincidentally, the New York Power Authority and Ontario Power jointly began the Ice Boom installations in 1964 when Barrett celebrated his third birthday.


Since then, the Boom has often received kudos and condemnation.


On the plus side, NYPA officials worked extensively with agencies to find out what effect the Ice Boom and other NYPA structures and designs had on the environment prior to a mandated Federal Regulatory Commission relicensing in 2007. A 2005 study, according to NYPA sources, showed the Boom had no effect on the environment.


The collective study, which incorporated more than 40 separate studies, set out to “determine if the Ice Boom [had any] climactic, aquatic, land management, or aesthetic effects.”


NYPA designed the Boom to “maintain a stable ice arch or cover that helps restrain ice that would flow down river. In minimizing the flow of ice, the boom also reduces risk of shoreline flooding and erosion.” It also has a positive impact on property such as docks and other structures along the shore.


The key benefit of the Boom is to maintain a water flow for New York and Ontario Province power companies and avoid loss of power production from the plant facilities in the lower Niagara River.


NYPA met the satisfaction of the Federal Regulatory Commission and in 2007 was relicensed to operate the Ice Boom and other facility functions for 50 years. Since then, NYPA obtained additional properties on which Ice Boom gear can be stored for use at the head of the river.


The International Joint Commission can, at its discretion, reexamine the Ice Boom and make changes when needed.


At this point, NYPA officials point to the 2005 studies and the relicensing granted in 2007 as proof of the Ice Boom’s functions and effects which Barrett questions. NYPA spokesman said of Barrett’s objections to the Ice Boom, “His issues now are left to the IJC International Niagara Board of Control. That’s all that we would say on his points.”


Barrett continues to question both the Ice Boom and erosion studies. The Niagara Power Project’s “Shoreline Erosion and Sedimentation Assessment Study” concludes “Only 3 percent of the upper river shoreline has been identified as actively eroding. Approximately 63 percent is protected by some form of structure.”


Barrett replies, “One hundred percent of the shoreline is eroding,” he notes of the 119 miles of shoreline along the river corridor between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. “The 63 percent with protective barriers was most likely the areas that were hit worst and needed protection the fastest,” he added.


In general, Barrett sees more changes in the upper Niagara River waterway in the past 50 years than occurred in the past 12,000 years. While most area residents show some concern about Ice Boom presence during colder-than-average spring seasons, Barrett passes on the weather and asks that we look at ecological changes that have negatively affected the river.


“As a fisherman, I see so many things the Ice Boom has damaged or impaired,” he said.


The Boom could have been a final straw influence on the disappearance of blue pike in Lake Erie, but he’s more focused on the lack of river bottom scouring and silt banking in places such as the flats between Strawberry Island and Grand Island where spawning beds for muskellunge, northern pike, and other fish species have been damaged.


“I’m looking for people with photos of the shoreline before the Ice Boom went in to show just how much shoreline has been removed in the past 45 years,” he said. He pointed to the extensive spreads of tree’s root systems as we were wading the shoreline next to the Fix Road Canoe and Kayak Access.


Note to those unsure about border security along Western New York waters:We were not in the water more than five minutes when a guy with a navy blue/black shirt with CBP on its back came over to see what we were observing along the shoreline.


For Barrett, the steady flow of silting, not just wakes from passing boats, and the signs of earth, not just sand, erosion were signs of insecurity for Barrett. The moss, which had subsided somewhat before we got there, was still heavy on rocks, outnumbering the presence of aquatic weeds.


Basically, Barrett contends that the loss of good aquatic weeds, increased shoreline erosion, plus the possibility of botulism outbreaks can be attributed directly to the loss of natural river-bottom scouring and shoreline ice buildup caused by the placement of the Ice Boom each winter.


“When ice naturally piles on the riverbanks, it contains sediment that settles on shore when the ice melts,” he contends. “Most people believe the Boom is saving Strawberry Island. In fact, the open current water all winter helps to further erode Strawberry,” he asserts. “The island was once more than 200 acres. They [town and city municipalities] stopped dredging gravel from the island when it was at about 100 acres. But now it’s only about three acres above water,” he said.


Barrett maintains a David-and- Goliath status with NYPA and is currently amassing data for a presentation to the IJC. He represents no funding agency, has yet to establish a Web site, works without a committee or staff. He encourages public input, pro or con, Ice Boom functions and acceptance. He wants to connect with people who support or question his theories. To offer input, call him at 866-2930 or write to him at P. O. Box 14120, North Tonawanda 14120.

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