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NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) — A huge mission is underway — delayed for more than three years — at the brink of Niagara Falls, as crews will be removing a 3,500 pound pontoon from the power authority’s ice boom.

That pontoon broke away from the ice boom during a windstorm in 2019, and authorities have been biding their time, getting ready for just the right moment, since then. The watch word is “care” for the removal team, and making sure the pontoon is under control.

The 30-foot long pontoon is tied to a tree on Goat Island, about 100 yards from the brink of the American Falls.

The operation is taking place in two stages — first, the State Park Police’s swift water rescue team tied up the pontoon. On Wednesday, the rescue team will hitch the massive steel cylinder to an Army National Guard Chinook helicopter out of Rochester, which will lift the pontoon from the rapids and set it down nearby, for eventual return to the ice boom.

Controlling the pontoon is tantamount.

“It needs to get removed, because it is close to the brink of the ‘Bridal Veil Falls,’ and underneath that is the ‘Cave of the Winds’ attraction,” Captain Chris Rola of the State Parks Police said. “So if that — heaven forbid — went over there, that could be catastrophic. It is not a little stick that we are out there removing, it is a 3,500 pound piece of steel that could do a lot of damage.”

Because of the ‘wash’ created by the helicopter propeller blades — as high as 80 miles-an-hour — the Chinook will make a couple of passes to blow away any loose tree branches or debris before it gets into place.

The pontoon to be removed is one of several pieces that broke away from the ice boom three years ago. One went over the falls, and another was recovered at Niawanda Park in the City of Tonawanda a short time after the wind storm.

Al Vaughters is an award-winning investigative reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 1994. See more of his work here. To submit a Call 4 Action, click here.