Ice-breaking ships working overtime

Ice-breaking ships at maximum output in Great Lakes

February 27, 2014

"All of our assets in the United States are at maximum output"

—Jim Vincent

The extreme cold of the 2013-2014 winter is keeping ice-breaking ships across the county busy.

The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Neah Bay, a 140-foot ice-breaking tug homeported in Cleveland is working to keep shipping lanes in the St. Clair River clear.

There are nine ice-breaking capable cutters homeported in the Great Lakes region.

The Great Lakes may hit record ice cover this year.

Lake Superior is 92 percent frozen on the surface, breaking a 20-year-old record of 91 percent set on Feb. 5, 1994. Temperatures continue well below freezing.

The number to break is 94.7, set in 1979, which is also a year of some of the worst winter weather ever in the USA, and coincidentally, the peak year when Arctic sea ice trends were begun via satellite measurements.

Deep beneath the Great Lakes lays an abundance of one of its most essential minerals: salt. But while Great Lakes water is in demand year-around, the need for the rock salt mined at seven locations in New York, Ohio, Michigan and Ontario can vary from year to year, depending on winter weather.

Right now- with the Great lakes region as a whole in the midst of its roughest winter in at least two decades, and Toledo pushing toward an all-time record snowfall- salt companies are selling every ton they can lift out of their mines to snow and ice-weary highway agencies desperate to replenish stockpiles.

“All of our assets in the United States are at maximum output, maximum capacity,” Jim Vincent, vice president of operations for Morton Salt, said. Between October and January, he said, Morton shipped three times as much salt as it did during that part of the previous winter.

And it’s not just the Great Lakes area being challenged by ice.

Chesapeake Bay watermen haven’t been able to work for days at a time because of one of the coldest winters in more than three years.

They rely on Maryland’s ice-breaker boats to clear the waterways.

Around Kent Narrows, the A.V. Sandusky has been breaking ice. The Sandusky is one of four ice-breakers, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources sends out every year.

But with the cold weather, it can be a struggle to keep the waterways clear.

The boats also are assigned to multiple areas. In addition to Kent Narrows, the Sandusky also covers Wye River, the Eastern Bay and the Chester River.

When the weather gets warmer and the boats are no longer needed for ice-breaking, the Sandusky and the other ship operate as buoy tenders, painting and repairing broken buoys.

But as the temperatures begin to rise in the coming weeks, the waterways and lakes should begin to stay clear.

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