The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

January 26, 2014

Shipping season continues despite Lake Erie ice

Shipping channels jammed with ice are not enough to shut down the Great Lakes shipping season even when Lake Erie begins to freeze over.

A little ice can’t shut down entire industries so the shipping season continues with a little help from the U.S. Coast Guard.

“During the 2012-13 ice season, the cutters helped 1,100 vessels (on the Great Lakes),” said Lt. Jillian Lamb of the U.S. Coast Guard from her office in Detroit. She said the cargo shipped during the last shipping season, during the winter months, was valued at $1 billion.

She said there are two Canadian ice breakers and two U.S. Coast Guard ships working Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and the southern part of Lake Michigan.

The 2013-14 ice-breaking season got started a little early because of the frigid temperatures this winter, Lamb said.

“We had significantly colder temperatures so we started our operations earlier,” Lamb said.

She said the vessels conduct search and rescue operations, work on flood prevention missions and help commercial vessels reach their destinations.

“We’ve seen a lot more ice in Detroit,” Lamb said of the 2013-14 season.

“We work daily with the shipping companies,” she said.

Lamb said the St. Saint Marie locks recently closed which could affect some of the commerce in and out of ports in Ashtabula County.

Shipping operations at Kinder Morgan Pinney Dock in Ashtabula operate all winter, said Kinder Morgan spokesman Richard Wheatley.

“Pinney Dock is open year-round. Incoming vessels slow due to the winter weather, but the facility has sufficient stockpile supply to carry on our operations fulfilling the needs of our customers,” he said.

“Our business over the winter is completely customer driven. We can make suggestions during the winter months based on operational experience, but the supply chain to other parts of the country is contingent on us acting on the customers’ needs,” he said.

The shipping scheduling decisions are made at the shipping company level, Wheatley said.

“We don’t schedule vessel traffic at the terminal level. This is completely reliant on decisions made by the vessel companies. There are frequent conference calls between the USCG and the vessel companies during the winter months, so that vessel patterns can be determined during times when ice is an issue,” Wheatley said.

A variety of raw materials including coal, iron ore, aggregate, furnace coke and certain steel products are shipped during the winter season.

Wheatley said less than 2 percent of vessel traffic occurred during the 2012-13 winter season.

The chilly weather also provides challenges for dock workers dealing with frigid temperatures.

“Extensive planning, as well as communicating potential hazards and operational concerns, are factored into preparing our employees for working in winter conditions. It is our main concern that our employees have the essential gear and tools to perform their work so the end result is a successful and safe outcome,” Wheatley said.


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