by Jon M. Casey
As you approach the Maid of the Mist winter storage facility jobsite in Niagara Falls, NY, the most prominent feature at the fenced off, Discovery Center location, is the massive Manitowoc 888 Ringer Crane sitting atop a sturdy crane mat near the edge of the gorge overlooking the river. At the river’s edge some 200-feet below, is where a new dry dock and maintenance facility is taking shape at the site of the former Schoellkopf electrical power station.
The need for the Maid of the Mist Corporation to develop this location is because they lost the use of the facility on the Canadian side of the falls where the company wintered over their boats during the off season. In February 2012, following the news of their need to relocate, they began looking at the development of this existing site as the location. The new facility is scheduled for opening, later this year.
According to spokesperson Kevin Keenan, the operation is run by the Maid of the Mist Corporation of Niagara Falls New York. “It was incorporated in 1892,” he said. “It’s been owned by the Glynn family of Lewiston, NY since 1971. About 2.5 million people come here every year on both sides of the border and when you’re on the Maid of the Mist you really get a sense for the world destination that it is. You see people from around the world and people really love that experience.”
Keenan recalled that as soon as the need for the new site was confirmed, the company began planning for a self-funded project to build the new facility as quickly as possible. After careful planning and thorough legal procedures, the company looked to Parsons Brinckerhoff and LP Ciminelli for the design and construction of this $32 million project. Work began in late April 2013.
What makes this project so unique is its location and footprint combined. Not only is it located at the bottom of a 200-foot gorge, the site is historic in nature as well. The location is part of Niagara Falls State Park (the first state park), that has been so designated, since the early years of our country. The Maid of the Mist tour itself began in 1846. Since then, Niagara Falls has been a tour destination for people from around the world.
LP Ciminelli project engineer, Jasmine Marcucci, explained that from day one, extreme care for the site, the workers and the environment has been foremost in the planning. With the advantage of using a site that was built as a power station, and already near the river, the adaptation into a new, modern docking facility, was the ideal choice. One of the early challenges was to clean up the remnants of what was left behind following the cleanup of the damaged power plant.
Early on, the crew was challenged to provide the necessary equipment and work force down to the jobsite without the current “amenities,” that have made the job a good bit easier today. Without the high capacity crane for equipment and materials, and the buck hoist used to transport crew members up and down to the jobsite, work was more time consuming than it is now.
In the first days, Clark Rigging worked to lower people, equipment and materials down to the jobsite while the All Crane Rental crews were setting up the larger Manitowoc 888 Ringer Crane. Clark provided the crane that East Coast Hoist used to assemble and install the buck hoist.
“That took some time and ingenuity as they adapted the buck hoist to the face of the wall,” said Marcucci. “The hoist was originally designed to attach to high-rise building framework, so we needed to install an anchoring system into the cliff so that we could mount the buck hoist into place. Once that was completed a few weeks ago, we no longer needed to use the lift basket with the crane, as we once did.”
Marcucci said that once the site prep work below was cleared to begin the building phase of the job, the lower dock concrete was poured as part of a nighttime phase of work. Workers took advantage of the river’s water level being lowered when the local electrical power authority diverts Niagara River water upstream to generate power when tourists are not visiting the falls. Once that part of the job was completed, the upper areas could be built.
As we toured the site, workers were preparing to pour concrete for a ramp that would go from the lower level of the docking area to the upper level. This lower area is where the boats will be lifted out of the water and stored for the winter. This is because at this location, the Niagara River freezes over during the coldest part of the winter. The upper level of the project will house the maintenance facility where equipment and workers can do much of the off-season maintenance required to keep the boats safe and operating efficiently.
Marcucci said that the boat’s crane will be mounted on the location where a crew was currently drilling micro-piles to secure it to the dock. The crane is currently being built in Austria and will be shipped to the U.S. in September for installation in October. That portion of the project has a very tight window of opportunity, since the boats will need to be out of the water before the river freezes over to prevent damage to the boats. “Their timely arrival is a ‘must!’” she said.
“At the peak of the project, we will have between 50 and 75 workers on site at the same time, with a total of 300 workers having worked at the site over the duration of the project,” she said. “These workers have worked extremely well together. They are all the best at what they do.”
“Unlike just about all of the other projects we might work at, here, we have to adapt to what our environment gives us. In most cases, crews can move dirt and rock to prepare the site. They can move in equipment, materials and manpower and go to work. Here, the environment and logistics demand that the work be done in a certain order and in a specific way, or it doesn’t get done properly. Here, there is no access road to get materials in an out of the jobsite. Here, everything goes to and from the job either by crane or buck hoist,” she said.
As part of the final project, an existing elevator shaft that was once a part of the power plant, will be gutted and rebuilt internally with a new elevator that will serve the new facility. “The structure is extremely sound,” she said. “The walls at the base of the elevator shaft are 12-feet thick. The shaft was built to last.”
Marcucci concluded by saying that once the facility is complete, crews will restore the hiking trail that parallels the river. Visitors enjoy using the trail as they travel from the falls to a series of rapids further downstream. “We want to keep the environment as much the same as we possibly can,” she said. “This entire project has been how to work with what the environment gives us, not us changing the environment.” For more information on the Maid of the Mist, visit their website at www.maidofthemist.com
by Jon M. Casey