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Breaking ice at the Black Eagle Dam

Ice may concern NorthWestern Energy at the Black Eagle Dam in Great Falls when the weather turns chilly.

“We aim to prevent the ice cap that builds on the river from pressing on the dam,” said Jerry Gray, supervisor of Hydro O & M.

Breaking through the ice, according to Gray, isn’t always straightforward and isn’t always a pleasant endeavor. You have to grin and bear it, in his words.

“You wrap up in excellent overalls and gloves and take numerous breaks as required,” Gray stated. “In conditions like today, when it’s not too cold, we can use the crane to break up the large chunks.” Then we split up the smaller pieces using steel rods with icepicks on end. When it’s freezing, 20 degrees below zero or worse, we have to do everything by hand with ice poles.”

Breaking through the ice may take up to two hours on a very moderate day with lots of sunlight.

“Because this dam is made of steel and flashboard, if you don’t keep the ice away, the ice will attach to the boards and either remove or push them downstream.” “It may also harm the steel,” Gray said.

While the ice on the dam’s backside is the most concerning, giant chunks of ice have formed on the dam’s front side, which can be seen from Black Eagle Island and the River’s Edge Trail. These, too, must be treated on occasion.

“They can pull on the dam, so we go down with ice picks and loosen those up until they fall,” Gray explained.

It is critical to keep the dam intact and operational. It generates 21 megawatts of electricity, which Gray says is particularly significant in the winter since people use it to power their heat sources to remain warm.