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Officials seeking new solutions to ice-jammed creeks

Mike Desmond/WBFO

For residents of Buffalo at this time of year, the sight of the fire boat Cotter breaking ice in the Buffalo River is a familiar one. This winter, area residents also saw a large excavation arm reaching over bridge edges in an effort break up ice. Looking forward, some Erie County officials want a much smaller ice breaker for smaller creeks.

Almost every winter, cold and snow wind up plugging one of the area's myriad creeks with ice-causing flooding. Buffalo Creek flooded a community near Union and Clinton in West Seneca last week.

Those ice jams are impossible to predict and the old days of throwing sticks of dynamite have ended, for environmental and legal liability reasons. There are also restrictions on bringing in large machinery to break up the jam.

County Commissioner of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Dan Neaverth says there is another possibility.

"You have to identify a machine that's capable of actually coming up into areas where there's not a whole lot of water, but there's ice. That's small enough that it can then get underneath the bridges to continue its path up the river or the creek or wherever,"Neaverth said.

"We've actually been in discussions with some of our state representatives, some of the towns, villages."

Downstream in Buffalo, the fire boat Cotter was working up and down the Buffalo River smashing ice jams as it has done for generations. Officials admit the Cotter is too big for what they have in mind.

"There's got to be a piece of equipment out there to help out Mother Nature push everything along," said Erie County Public Works Commissioner Bill Geary.

"Some of these bridges you can see there's not much clearance so we could have to get it in and out between the bridges."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.