CHICAGO The U.S. Coast Guard ice-breaking vessel Thunder Bay arrived Friday in Cleveland ahead of the winter season on the Great Lakes to assist other Coast Guard ice-breakers during Operations Coal Shovel and Taconite, the largest ice-breaking operations in the country, according to the Coast Guard.
"Last year, the Great Lakes area experienced an abnormally warmer winter without much ice, but the Coast Guard wants to be prepared for anything," Cmdr. Keith Ropella, chief of the 9th Coast Guard Districts Waterways Management Branch, said in a statement.
An average of $2 billion in cargoincluding steel, coal, heating oil and grainare transported on the Great Lakes each year.
"The Coast Guard has eight ice-breakers in the Lakes," Glen G. Nekvasil, vice president of the Rocky River, Ohio-based Lake Carriers Association, told AMM Tuesday. "But five of the ships were built in the 1970s and are nearing the end of their productive lives. A couple winters ago, we had to cancel some cargoes because there wasnt enough ice-breaking assistance. So the Coast Guard brings in an additional asset for winter" at the associations request.
The group would like nine ice-breakers assigned to the 9th District on a permanent basis.
The locks at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., will close Jan. 15, but iron ore will still ship from Escanaba, Mich., until the end of January and, depending on demand, coal could move on Lake Erie well into January.
The association held its first ice conference call with the Coast Guard Wednesday. That will be followed by periodic calls between the Coast Guard and vessel operators "about where the assets are and where they are most needed," Nekvasil said.