Tonawanda News

January 9, 2014

Taking stock after the storm

By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — North Tonawanda was spared flooding along Sweeney Street and other parts of the city, after ice floes jammed water intakes Tuesday and caused the Niagara River and the Erie Canal to nearly reach their limits. 

The New York Power Authority first issued a flash flood warning Tuesday, as the Niagara River began to breach sections of Grand Island and Niagara Falls, which led to the temporary closure of the Robert Moses Parkway. 

City officials and emergency workers stood vigilant as the the waterways reached heights six inches below zero damage levels, with particular attention paid to Mayors Park and a section of boat houses in and around Tonawanda Island. 

But on Wednesday as crews took stock after a storm that for days shut down much of Western New York, those levels began to recede. 

North Tonawanda Fire Chief John Lapham said water levels along the Erie Canal were noticeable lower by 7:30 a.m. Wednesday and by midday the danger of flooding had subsided by two feet. 

Mayor Rob Ortt said overall the city fared well, with less overall precipitation than the Erie County portions of the Tonawandas, though on Tuesday he initiated a citywide driving ban that ended at 9 p.m. 

“The waters have receded, they didn’t go any higher,” Ortt said. “I haven’t heard anything further as far as additional warnings. I believe the power authority have ice cutters taking shifts our there.” 

The threat of more widespread flooding led Rep. Brian Higgins to issue a statement Wednesday calling on the United State Chair of International Joint Commission to investigation the ice build-up in an effort to “prevent potential tragedies in the future” on both sides of the border.  

“I am reluctant to contemplate the dire scenario which would ensue if hydroelectric generation were disrupted by an ice jam,” Higgins wrote to the international body. “If this disruption happened concurrently with a 10-year blizzard like the one which visited our region yesterday, the result may be nothing short of a major humanitarian disaster.”

Connie M. Mullen, director of media relations for NYPA, said the authority continues to monitor water levels and has utilized two ice breakers from New York and Canada “round-the-clock” to “break ice jams along the upper Niagara River and to prevent ice build-up.” 

“The Niagara plant generation operations have not been affected,” she said. 

City of Tonawanda officials were also concerned over rising river levels in close proximity to City Hall, according to Mayor Rick Davis. 

“The way City Hall is situated the basement is actually below the river,” he said, where expensive computer servers and documents are stored. 

Roadways in the Tonawandas were mostly clear by Wednesday, despite the accumulation of additional snow overnight. 

Bill Swanson, the Town of Tonawanda highway superintendent, said his outfit cleared the municipalities’ main roads “down to the pavement.” 

“Everything is fine now,” he said Wednesday evening. “We’ll finish the side streets tomorrow.” 

Ortt noted that the city’s emergency management plan worked well to alleviate many of the dangers associated with blizzard conditions. 

“The important thing is you don’t panic,” he said. “This is Western New York. We’re probably one of the only parts of the country where this type of weather would not have been crippling.” 

OUR VIEW • Area's response to storm was flawless. OPINION, 5A