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Posted: March 18, 2014

Great Lakes spring breakout 'will be one of the most challenging on record'


In a letter to the U.S. Great Lakes Shipping Association dated March 7, U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. F.M. Midgette wrote: "Spring Breakout this year will be one of the most challenging on record. We fully appreciate the task ahead, and we will do our absolute best to facilitate the timely resumption of shipping."

Midgette noted the U.S. Coast Guard is working closely with the Canadian Coast Guard "to deliver the best possible icebreaking service for the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence Seaway. This week, we plan to have all nine U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers ready, which now include six Bay Class icebreaking tugs instead of our past compliment of five. We also expect the Canadian Coast Guard to bring an additional icebreaker into the Great Lakes."

Midgette continued: "That said, unless something changes drastically in the next few weeks, breakout will be long and difficult. Transits in ice conditions are slow and arduous."

In describing conditions on the Lakes, Midgette noted the USCG cutter Hollyhock "encountered ice conditions in the St. Marys River and Straits of Mackinac beyond its capability. And we expect ice conditions in Lake Superior that could exceed the USCG cutter Mackinaw's capability."

According to the U.S. National Weather Service, temperatures are expected to remain below normal through March, Midgette wrote, adding the scheduled opening of the Sault Ste. Marie Locks on March 25 typically marks the end of the 'closed season' on the Lakes.

"I understand some industry stockpiles are low, and shippers are anxious to resume cargo operations," Midgette wrote. Even so, he urged companies to "consider delaying sail dates and curtailing early operations where possible until ice conditions improve."