Icing on the lake

Longtime watchers of Dunkirk’s Lake Erie harbor know things are a little different this year, especially in the west end. Since the early 1950s that west end of the harbor has had help battling ice buildup due to the warm-water discharge from what is now the NRG Energy Dunkirk coal-fired power plant.

On Wednesday, the harborfront had ice nearly everywhere except for a small area of water near the warm-water discharge from NRG.

Jim Nichols is chairman of the city’s Harbor Commission and from his business location can keep an eye on the harbor.

“It’s going to be something if it freezes over isn’t it,” he said, adding he could not remember it freezing over. “It really looks weird.”

Mike Rosing is a long-time fisherman and harbor watcher. He was asked for his take on the situation.

“There’s a little bit of flow coming out of the outlet now but that could be done any day. They shut that one turbine down once in a while and it just stops,” Rosing said. “It’s pretty bad, I don’t think we’ll ever see a completely ice-free harbor any more, especially with the way things are going.”

When NRG was running full tilt there was usually just a little ice, allowing for activities such as fishing and bird banding – now that is changing.

“We do a volunteer duck banding thing in front of the Conservation Club. Since 1955 we’ve banded over 19,000 birds and we’re not going to get any this year because it’s frozen solid,” Rosing explained. “The geese are sitting on the ice and the only place they have to eat is Memorial Park and down there at the ball field on Pangolin Street.”

Rosing said there were quite a few birds around but they were slowly getting edged out.

“There’s no place for them to go,” he said. “It’s starting to open up a little bit. There’s probably some diving ducks and some coot around, but it’s not like it’s ever going to be like it used to be.”

A Conservation Club member, Rosing was asked if he thought additional ice could damage the docks in the west end of the harbor.

“I don’t know. We had a pretty good high-water event here a couple days ago when it was really blowing out of the southwest and it got up almost into our lower parking lot,” he explained. “The dock went up and then down and now it’s frozen. Once the lake freezes, or gets enough slush or ice buildup in it, the water won’t go up and down, it will just stay static. “I don’t recall any real damage to any docks with the ice. It will just break up and float out when it gets warm.

“We had an east wind earlier in January. It drove a lot of ice into the west end of the harbor but it didn’t hurt the docks. It got warm and all the ice went, now it’s back.”

On the other side of the city pier it’s a different story as Chadwick Bay Marina has frozen before.

“It did a lot of damage,” Rosing said. “You’d go down there and the docks would be buckled up, but this time it doesn’t seem it’s doing anything. It might just go up and come down, hopefully.”

A bigger problem is low water levels in the Great Lakes, including Lake Erie. Rosing said that will cause problems getting boats launched, particularly in the west end of the harbor.

“I hope the water comes up because we’re going to have a hard time launching boats down there,” he said. “During the duck season guys were going out with smaller boats and they were bumping bottom with their motors.”

Rosing’s advice for people visiting the harbor was to be careful, particularly on the city pier.

As for the city’s other Lake Erie viewing spots, Point Gratiot and Lake Front Boulevard, they were closed due to the wintry conditions.

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