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Bridge Work Could Dry Niagara Falls

Thursday, January 28, 2016

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With a gushing flow visited by millions each year, it seems nothing could shut off the splash of Niagara Falls—except maybe bridge construction.

Officials in charge of the international falls and the park that surrounds them are considering a plan that will dewater the U.S. side of the world-renowned cascades. If ultimately approved, the American Falls could shut down—or at least have its flow diverted to the Canadian side.

“Dewatering is expected initially (to) be a tourism draw (a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the falls and river channel without water),” according to a New York state-issued design report. The report also said the novelty could wear off eventually and hurt park attendance.

Bridge Replacement

State officials have been moving to replace the 1900-1901 bridges since 2004 when they were found to have deteriorated to the point where they were closed, according to the Niagara Gazette. Temporary bridges were built above the existing structures.

Ujjwal Kumar / Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Officials are considering a plan that would dewater the U.S. side of the Niagara Falls. If approved, the American Falls could shut down—or at least have its flow diverted to the Canadian side.

Those temporary fixes have preserved pedestrian and bicycle access to Goat Island, but they lack the aesthetic appeal of the stone-faced originals and restrict views of the rapids, the report said. Meanwhile, the original bridges continue to crumble.

About 85 percent of the Niagara River flows over Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side of the border, according to CNN. The rest of the river water goes over American Falls in New York.

To “dewater” the American Falls, officials would build a temporary cofferdam that would redirect the entire river flow to Horseshoe Falls, CNN noted.

“Dewatering is necessary for two reasons,” the report said. “The existing 115-year old bridges need to be demolished. The river channel must be dewatered in order to demolish and remove the bridges.

“(And) the piers and abutments for the replacement bridges must be constructed ‘in the dry,’ to allow for safe construction procedures and to ensure that the new foundations are firmly anchored to bedrock.”

Officials from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Albany; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and the state Department of Transportation agree that if a third option—to seal off the flow to the American Falls—is chosen, the project would not begin for several years, the daily newspaper said.

Dry Before

It’s not the first time the water in Niagara Falls has run dry. For some, it could be a twice-in-a-lifetime event, said John Percy, CEO of the Niagara Tourism & Convention Corporation. Percy told CNN that the Army Corps of Engineers dewatered the falls in 1969 to test the falls’ stability.

For some, it could be a twice-in-a-lifetime event, said John Percy, CEO of the Niagara Tourism & Convention Corporation. Percy told CNN that the Army Corps of Engineers dewatered the falls in 1969 to test the falls’ stability.

According to Percy, dewatering the falls could be “an exciting—even an enormous—marketing opportunity for us.”

But that depends on which method construction crews end up using to rebuild two 115-year-old bridges connecting the U.S. mainland with Goat Island—a green space located between American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.

According to the report, one scenario would be to leave the American and Bridal Veil Falls dry for five months (August through December). The second would require a nine-month dry spell: from April through December.

If either of those methods are chosen, crews would build a cofferdam in the river from the tip of Goat Island to the mainland. That would shut down the water flow in the river bed and provide a dry area to demolish and replace the deteriorating concrete arch bridges that span the river rapids.

The cofferdam would be in about the same location as the 1969 structure—which spanned 600 feet and consisted of 28,000 tons of rock and earth—when the falls were dewatered last.

Resident Reaction

Niagara Falls author and historian Paul Gromosiak told the Niagara Gazette that he remembers speaking with tourists after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed the 1969 dewatering.

Sreejithk2000 / Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The cofferdam would be in about the same location as the 1969 structure—which spanned 600 feet and consisted of 28,000 tons of rock and earth—when the falls were dewatered last.

“People were astounded at the site and the lack of the sound,” said Gromosiak. “Those who had been there before missed the sound of the falls, not just the beauty but the sound.”

But Gromosiak, like others, has been urging officials to find another way to do the bridge work if they can.

“It’s kind of sad that it will be because people won’t be able to come and see it and they won’t be able to see how pretty it is,” Kalie Pries, a resident who lives near the falls, told a CNN affiliate. “Some people say it’s spiritual when they come and see it. But I guess they have to do what they have to do.”

How soon any of it would begin remains unknown. A parks department spokesperson told a CNN affiliate that the project does not have a budget nor funding yet, and public hearings on the issue were to begin this week.

   

Tagged categories: Bridge Piles; Bridges; Bridges; Concrete defects; Corrosion; North America; Program/Project Management; Public spaces

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