By Joshua Maloni
Though Village of Lewiston residents have noticed less wake turbulence on Water Street, there is still room for improvement.
Deputy Mayor Bruce Sutherland said the municipality is considering working with Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours and the U.S. Coast Guard to find, finance and install a floating breakwall that would further dull incoming wakes.
"I think we got a possible solution here," he said at a Village Board work session Tuesday. "We just have to look at it and see how far we can go with it."
Residents and dock slip owners crowded the Red Brick Municipal Building boardroom last month seeking a remedy from WJBT owner John Kinney and asking for a speed limit. Two days later, Kinney, who couldn't attend the meeting, told the Sentinel his boats had begun to more slowly navigate the waters in front of the 10 Buckholtz family-owned docks (South Water Street), thus lessening the wake.
WJBT operates boats from sites in Lewiston, Queenston and Niagara-on-the-Lake.
On Tuesday, Kinney updated trustees on his company's plan of action.
"I met with property owners along the river that expressed concerns about, specifically, Whirlpool Jet Boats. As we all know, there's a jet boating company out of Youngstown, and there are approximately 7,000 registered vehicles in the lower Niagara River - all of which make wakes. But, doing our part in the village, upon meeting with certain residents and going to their properties and seeing firsthand ... what they were experiencing, back in early July, all of Whirlpool Jet Boats departing out of Lewiston and Queenston ... now troll from the Lewiston docks, troll from the Queenston docks, and don't power-up until we are south of the Queenston boat ramp, which nullifies all the wake action that our boats would create in Lewiston and in Queenston," Kinney said. "The boats that depart out of Niagara-on-the-Lake do proceed through the Lewiston waterfront at plane, which, by and large, is not the problematic time. It's power on/power down, is what creates the most wake issues.
"Our organization is the only organization that I know of, from a commercial standpoint, that has taken a proactive step as I've just described."
Kinney said part of the wake problem this summer is, "We are experiencing water levels that, historically, would be about two feet higher than we would normally have at this time of year. Reason for that is the entire Lake Ontario Basin is about two feet higher than what it would normally be. And so, subsequently, when you have more water, the wave action - whether it be from wind fetch, whether it be from boat wakes or what have you - is magnified."
A floating breakwall, Kinney said, represents the best solution.
"There's been some banter about speed limits and other remedies that might be enacted upon," he said. "I would suggest that speed limits, for a variety of reasons, are not your answer. Extremely, extremely difficult to enforce. We don't have enough regulatory agencies out there to do so. And if you would say, 'Well, jeez, what would a reasonable speed limit be? Say 15 to 20 miles per hour; that seems reasonable.' I assure you that the wake action of most fishing boats - medium-size cabin cruisers and certainly jet boats - are maximized in that 10-to-15-knot-range. You wouldn't be getting the results that you had hoped for by enacting speed limits.
"It was suggested, and I heard through various discussions, the possibility through the (Lewiston Waterfront Revitalization Plan) that, conceivably as a long-term solution, and a real solution, I love the idea of a floating breakwall. They're used all over, and every other thing that we can talk about has challenges. ... The floating breakwall for the benefit of slip owners, for the benefit of people launching their boat at the boat ramp, etc., etc., is an absolute solution. And the nice thing about it is, because there's no permanency to it, obviously, in the wintertime that would be removed when the ice floes come through in spring."
Chief Adam Pedzich of the U.S. Coast Guard Niagara Station said, "Speed zones ... they're very hard to enforce. Absolutely what (Kinney) said is true. Speeds between 10-20 knots on these sides of the boats are going to create a bigger wake."
He said the USCG recently paid close attention to WJBT crafts leaving from Lewiston.
"We didn't observe anything (similar to reports of) three-to-four-foot wakes, which, in my experience on the water, just isn't going to be generated," Pedzich said. "But I agree some type of portable breakwall that could help break the wakes. ... Those would be a lot easier than speed zones or anything like that to try and enforce."
"Really, the only solution we've got is that floating breakwall," Sutherland said. "That would help us ... with the LWRP as we build the bulkhead out there, that would increase the longevity of the bulkhead, if we could slow the wake action and the wave action down there."
Dock owner Harry Buckholtz expressed support for that idea.
"We talked to the guy in Youngstown (Niagara Jet Adventures), and he offered the same solution - although he doesn't want to pay for it," Buckholtz said. "A floating breakwall sounded like a feasible solution, although I don't know the expense. It sounds like there is some thought being given to it.
"I do say that, at the Lewiston dock, we have observed the trolling and that we have mitigated some of the wakes. Because the ones from Lewiston are zero. We're not getting a problem there. But, across the river, they still pound in through there and, three minutes after they go by, then wakes come."
Guard Street resident and Planning Board member Claudia Marasco, who lives next to Artpark, said, "My area is worse than ever, unfortunately. ... I do appreciate that you troll; I do appreciate this idea coming forward. (But), the boats that come across from Queenston - and they do troll - but then what happens is, we have four houses. They troll almost to the middle and then they step on it. So then we have the troll wake, and then we have the big wake."
Artpark, she said, gets "slammed" by wakes from boats making 360-degree turns.
Trustees are looking at TUFFBOOM barriers, which, according to company literature, are 10-foot modular units made of thick-walled, UV-resistant resin, linked together to form unlimited-length boom lines. These booms include a high load-bearing internal steel channel through which all boom-to-boom connections are bolted. Moreover, each boom is filled with closed-cell foam, thus making it virtually sink-proof.
TUFFBOOM is offered through Worthington Products Inc. of Canton, Ohio.
Board members said the breakwall would, at a minimum, have to stretch from The Silo Restaurant down south well past the Buckholtz docks.
At this time, there is no cost, no decision on who or what would pay for the portable wall, or a timetable to install it in the Niagara River.
Sutherland asked Kinney and Pedzich for help in placing the breakwall, if it is acquired.
"It's not terribly involved," Kinney said. "By and large, you have anchors that stay there permanently. Unchain them at the end of the season, tow them away and reinstall them in the spring after the ice goes out."
He noted, "Different than a buoy, the floating breakwall would be an obstruction to navigation, which would have to be put onto the charts, and there's some things like that. All doable, but it's different than just putting a buoy out there."
Pedzich said the Village Board would have to send a proposal to the Waterways Management Center, which would offer guidance on height, length and lighting.