U.S. won't shut down its side of Niagara Falls until 2019 at earliest

Tourists hoping for a glimpse of a dry Niagara Falls will have to wait until at least 2019.

The project could start in 2019 if federal, state or private funding is found right away

In this June 14, 2001, file aerial photo, the United States side, foreground, of Niagara Falls is viewed. (David Duprey/The Associated Press)

Tourists hoping for a glimpse of a dry Niagara Falls will have to wait until at least 2019.

Regional New York parks chief Mark Thomas says Wednesday that there's no funding yet for a bridge replacement project that could involve shutting down the water flowing over one section of the falls by building a temporary structure to redirect it.

Thomas says the project could start in 2019 if federal, state or private funding is found right away.

Thomas spoke to reporters before a public hearing on plans to replace two 115-year-old pedestrian bridges near the brink of the falls. The project could leave the American and Bridal Veil Falls dry for up to nine months while water from the Niagara River is diverted over the Canadian Horseshoe Falls.

It was done once before, for a 1969 study of erosion.

The result then, as now, would be a rare look at the rock formations that lie beneath the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls on the United States side of the tourist draw, and perhaps an even more robust Canadian Horseshoe Falls, where 85 per cent of the water flows over normally. Together, the three waterfalls fed by the Niagara River along the northern border comprise Niagara Falls.

"Dewatering is expected initially (to) be a tourism draw (a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the falls and river channel without water)," said a state-issued design report. It acknowledged the novelty could wear off in time and hurt park attendance.

Crews would build a structure called a cofferdam from the tip of Goat Island in the river to the mainland. That would shut down water flow in the river bed and provide a dry area for demolition and replacement of the two deteriorating concrete arch bridges that span the river rapids. The cofferdam would be in the same general location as the 1969 structure, which spanned 600 feet and consisted of 28,000 tons of rock and earth.

'Lack of sound' marked in 1969 case

Niagara Falls author and historian Paul Gromosiak remembers speaking with tourists during near nightly walks to the American Falls after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed the 1969 dewatering.

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

He said he would rather not see the water diverted again and urged the state to find another way to replace the bridges.

"When you take something so impressive, so mesmerizing and affect it in such a significant way," he said, "to me, it just destroys the impact it should have."


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