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U.S. Coast Guard Tug Katmai Bay, based in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

Coast Guard Begins Ice Breaking in Upper Lakes, Readying for Shipping

Fracturing Frozen Floes Provides Shippers With Earlier Start on Commerce

March 16, 2010       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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U.S. and Canadian Coast Guard ice-breaking operations began Thursday to open the Soo Locks area for the 2010 shipping season.

The U.S. Coast Guard is breaking ice in Whitefish Bay and the Upper St. Marys River in an area extending from Whitefish Bay to Detour.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutters initially involved will be the Mackinaw from Cheboygan; the Bayonne, New Jersey-based Penobscot Bay; and the Mobile Bay from Sturgeon Bay, Wis. The Samuel Risley, a Canadian Coast Guard Ship from Parry Sound, Ontario, also will be at work.

U.S. Coast Guard's efforts as "Guardians of the Great Lakes" are directed from headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio. The Ninth District spans 6,700 miles of coastline and 1,500 miles of international border with Canada. The District encompasses the five Great Lakes and the U.S. portion of the St Lawrence Seaway.

Normally lake ice thaws at the end of April, but the Coast Guard traditionally has opened Great Lakes shipping lanes as early as the third week in March, allowing earlier shipping of millions of tons of iron ore and other bulk materials.

Ice-breaking ships head first for the strategic area of the Straits of Mackinac to begin ice operations and as conditions permit works up though the Soo Locks, to Whitefish Bay and areas of the St. Mary's River, then to the head of Lake Superior. Later the icebreakers work in the lower lakes.

During the ice-breaking season, the Coast Guard conducts two major operations: Taconite and Coal Shovel.

Operation Taconite, under the control of U.S. Coast Guard Sector Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., encompasses Lake Superior, the St. Marys River, the Straits of Mackinac, Lake Michigan and northern Lake Huron.

Coal Shovel, under the control of Coast Guard Sector Detroit, encompasses southern Lake Huron, St. Clair/Detroit River systems, and Lakes Erie and Ontario, including the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Coast Guard domestic ice breaking aids in search and rescue and other emergency operations, helps to mitigate flooding, and is tasked to meet the "reasonable demands of commerce."

The Great Lakes shipping industry is comprised of about 18 companies with 63 U.S. flag ships from industries such as steel, coal, heating oil and grain. Coast Guard ice breaking services provide an early season assist to these shippers that transport an average of $2 billion worth of cargo each year.

Based on ice conditions, assets are dedicated to specific areas in coordination with international partners and commercial ice-breaking services.

The four cutters will traverse the locks through to the upper St. Marys River and prepare open water tracks in Whitefish Bay and the upper St. Marys River.

Although not limited to a specific area, Mackinaw will focus its activities to the charted Lake Carriers Association (LCA) track lines.

Biscayne Bay arrived upbound at DeTour about 10 a.m. Monday, followed by the Mackinaw shortly after 11 a.m. Mackinaw headed to the Soo while the Biscayne Bay broke out the channels in the Mud Lake area before stopping at Lime Island about 5 p.m. Mackinaw joined the Hollyhock and Katmai Bay in the Soo. Penobscot Bay joined them Tuesday afternoon.

Monday afternoon, the tug W. J. Isaac Purvis moved the barge PML 9000 from the Carbide dock, where it had been all winter, across the river to the dock in Soo, Ont.

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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
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