Crews work to clear Great Lakes shipping pathways
By JOHN FLESHER and CHARLES D. WILSON
the associated press | April 08,2014
FILE - In this Feb. 12, 2014 file photo the Coast Guard Cutter Biscayne Bay, a 140-foot ice-breaking tug, sails through ice covered waters toward the shores off Indiana. U.S. Steel said Monday, April 7, 2014 that its largest mill in Gary, Ind., is on limited production after a shortage of vital iron ore due to the ice covering Lake Superior had temporarily shut down its furnaces. (Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Alan Haraf, File)
INDIANAPOLIS — U.S. and Canadian Coast Guard crews kept up their battle Monday to clear pathways for vessels hauling vital raw materials on the ice-clogged Great Lakes, where a shipping logjam forced a weeklong shutdown of the nation’s largest steel factory.
Traffic remained largely at a standstill after a winter that produced some of the heaviest ice on record across the five inland seas, where more than half the surface area remained solid this week. Icebreaking ships slogging across Lake Superior were still encountering ice layers 2 to 3 feet thick. In some areas, wind and wave action created walls of ice up to 14 feet high.
United States Steel Corp.’s plant in Gary, Ind., had resumed limited operations after receiving a shipment over the weekend of iron ore from a company mill near Detroit, which was sending one additional load, spokeswoman Courtney Boone said. Two ships were scheduled to arrive Tuesday with ore from mines in northern Minnesota following a two-week voyage across Lake Superior, which ordinarily would take three days.
Other companies were hoping their supplies would be adequate to avoid significant disruptions.
“Nobody’s stockpile situation is very good,” said Glen Nekvasil, spokesman for the Lake Carriers’ Association, which represents companies that operate 57 U.S.-flagged freighters on the Great Lakes. “It’s still very slow sledding.”
The Gary Works mill produces steel for industries such as construction and auto manufacturing. Production resumed at one of the mill’s three furnaces after Sunday’s shipment was received, Boone said. The Gary Works is capable of producing 7.5 million tons of steel per year.
U.S. Steel was able to operate off stockpiles for some time before the ice began affecting production, Boone said.
The shipping season officially began two weeks ago with the opening of navigational locks on the St. Marys River connecting Lakes Superior and Huron, a bottleneck for vessels hauling iron ore and coal to manufacturers and electric power plants. But just one convoy of vessels — two Coast Guard icebreakers and the two ships hauling iron ore — have traversed the lake thus far.