INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
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 slowdown at the nation’s
largest steel factory.
largely at a crawl 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 feet 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., was operating at reduced capacity as it tried
to replenish its supply of iron ore. The mill received 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.
were hoping their supplies would be adequate to avoid significant
situation is very good,” said Glen Nekvasil, a 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.”
Only three ships
were able to haul coal on the lakes in March, their cargos combining for
102,000 tons - down 70 percent from the same month in 2013, he said. Coal
trade was 54 percent below the long-term first-quarter average.
The Gary Works mill
generates steel for industries such as construction and auto manufacturing.
Only one of the mill’s three furnaces was operating, Boone said Monday. 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.
Charles Bradford, a
steel industry analyst, said the company should have done better planning
even though this winter was among the harshest in recent memory. At one
point, ice extended across 92 percent of the Great Lakes, falling just short
of the record set in 1979.
“They know that
every winter the Great Lakes freeze over,” Bradford said. Boone declined to
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 - including two icebreakers and the
two ships hauling iron ore - had traversed Superior with loads of freight.
Two other coal
haulers were docked in Superior, Wis., waiting to make deliveries to a power
plant in Marquette, Mich., said Mark Gill, director of vessel traffic
service for the U.S. Coast Guard in Sault Ste. Marie. Five empty vessels
were expected to begin crossing Lake Superior on Tuesday to pick up iron
The We Energies
Presque Isle power plant in Marquette was operating just three of its five
generating units to conserve coal until more arrives, spokesman Barry
McNulty said. Even so, there wasn’t enough demand to disrupt service, he
said. The plant serves about 22,000 customers, mostly in Michigan’s Upper
DTE Energy, which
operates five coal-fired plants in southeastern Michigan, has dealt with
dwindling stocks by taking some units out of production for maintenance
ahead of schedule and making up for the loss by buying power from the grid,
spokesman Scott Simons said.
“This will hold us
over until we can rebuild our supplies,” Simons said.
General Motors has
not had any delays or material shortages because of Great Lakes shipping
problems, spokesman Tom Henderson said.
Nine U.S. Coast
Guard ships are capable of breaking ice but only one, the Mackinaw, is
equipped to deal with the thickest formations, Gill said. The Canadian Coast
Guard dispatched two heavy-duty vessels to assist.
three-quarters of Lake Superior, the largest and deepest of the Great Lakes,
remained ice-covered. Gill estimated it would be about two weeks before the
surface is clear enough for freighters to make the crossing without an
Even then, the
icebreakers probably will be on duty well into May and possibly as late as
constantly on search-and-destroy missions, finding big pieces of ice and
breaking them into smaller pieces,” Gill said.