The American side of Niagara Falls could soon be dewatered while the pedestrian bridges that connect various areas of the national park are replaced. Having stood in place since 1901, the two concrete walkways linking Prospect Point on the mainland to Goat Island and Green Island are now considered to “have reached their useful life[span],” according to an official environmental report.
A final decision on whether to go ahead with the project will be taken this week, on January 27, following a public hearing held by the New York State Department of Transportation and the New York Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Among the factors being taken into consideration are the environmental impacts of the proposed project. For instance, the dewatering of the falls is expected to cause a "temporary disturbance" to local wildlife, with some migratory bird species, wading birds and waterfowl being displaced.
However, the environmental report concludes that this will not generate any "long term significant impacts to fish and wildlife," while also noting that the two breeding pairs of bald eagles known to inhabit the national park will not be affected, since they are rarely seen in the area under consideration. It also points out that the undertaking will not leave any lasting effects on the riverbed itself.
Attendees at the meeting will decide between three different bridge designs, each of which has been developed to "provide a low-to-the-water river crossing as a means for visitors to experience the sight, sounds, majesty, and power of the American Rapids.”
The existing bridges are made of concrete that has been reinforced with earth-filled arches. Their age has begun to take its toll, however, with deterioration resulting in the need for temporary bridges to be installed in 2004 while repair work was carried out on the concrete passageways.
American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls were last dewatered in 1969 to allow geologists to assess rock erosion levels. Kelisi via Wikimedia Commons
Niagara Falls sits on the U.S-Canada border, where the state of New York meets Ontario. A total of three waterfalls are found at the site, with Horseshoe Falls being the largest of these and sitting on the Canadian side. The two smaller cascades, American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, are both located on the American side of the border, and receive about 20 percent of the flow of the Niagara River.
The two falls on the American side were last dewatered in 1969, in order to allow geologists to assess erosion levels. This was achieved by constructing a cofferdam, which directed all of the water over Horseshoe Falls, and the same technique is likely to be used again should the project be given the go-ahead.
Construction of the bridges is expected to take two years, although the falls will probably only run dry for five months during the first year of this process, between August and December. However, an alternative plan is also being considered, which would see the dam left in place for up to nine months.
Funding for the project has yet to be secured, with the New York Office of State Parks expected to begin evaluating potential sources of state and federal finance once a bridge design has been approved.