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At 8:15 this morning, crews began the process of raising each of the 22 steel-pontoon spans that stretch across the Niagara River and block the ice flow from entering Niagara Power Project water intakes.

“It’s like the sign of spring everyone wants to see – when the ice boom is coming out,” said Lou Paonessa, director of media relations for the Power Authority. “They’ll likely only open a few of the spans today starting from the Canadian side.”

This gradual process helps control the amount of ice flowing down the river.

By midmorning, crews had one of the spans dismantled, and planned to work on removing another one or two, said Paonessa.

“It’s very weather-dependent,” Paonessa said. “It could take a few days. It could take a couple of weeks. There are different variables.”

Today, for example, crews were monitoring the wind along the waterfront. The forecasted gusts of more than 40 mph could have put a kabosh on the project.

Now that the work has begun, people can expect to see the ice chucks almost immediately, said Paonessa.

“If the ice is free it will start moving; if not we can use the ice breakers, but usually at this time of the season once you start opening the boom the ice usually flows.” As the ice starts to make its way along the river, residents can expect a temporary chill in the air as temperatures drop “only a couple of degrees,” Paonessa noted.

“People want to blame the boom for causing a late spring, but that is not scientifically true,” he said. “Relicensing studies we commissioned in 2007 indicated that the boom itself doesn’t impact the temperature that much, less than a couple of degrees,” Paonessa said.

For a bird’s eye view of the process, visit www.iceboom.nypa.gov.

email jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com