BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) - Since 1964, the ice boom has been placed at the mouth of the Niagara River at the east end of Lake Erie.
It's purpose is to keep most of the ice during winter on Lake Erie, and prevent the large chunks from flowing down river, damaging docks and clogging the hydro power intakes just above Niagara Falls.
"[The ice] causes a lot of damage on the river and also it created havoc for the hydro power intake," explains Paul Yu, Chief of Water Management with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The ice boom, which is owned by the New York Power Authority, is considered the least expensive and most effective way of keeping the ice from clogging the river. The only problem is that at least one local man thinks that doing so causes severe damage to the ecosystem in Lake Erie, the Niagara River and even into Lake Ontario.
"By stopping the ice flow with an ice boom, you're stopping a 12,000 year-old process that nature has become totally reliant on," claims Joseph Barrett, an expert fisherman turned environmentalist.
Barrett has been studying the issue for nearly a decade and says that allowing the river to fill ice is an essential part of maintaining the health of the lake, river and the life they sustain.
"It scours the bottom, it prepares the spawning beds, it restores the shoreline. When that ice is moving it's like a bulldozer and it pushes sand and gravel back up on to the banks and restores the shorelines to their long-term averages where they have historically been," explains Barrett.
Barrett compares the ice in the river to fiber in our digestive system. The ice helps stir-up and clean out the dead and stagnant build-up on the bottom of the lake and river, and pushes it out into Lake Ontario, which provides nutrients to feed the food chain.
On his website bantheboom.com, Barrett also explains how the ice boom has contributed to the massive erosion of land along the river, like at Strawberry Island.
But is banning the boom the answer?
Allowing the ice to fill the river would damage docks and shorelines along the Niagara, and would force NYPA to find ways to prevent the ice from clogging their intakes.
"You have to weigh the cost of damage the ice will cause versus the effects on the ecology," says Yu.