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Great Lakes shipping season ends with limited ice cover

The large Ashtabula barge in a narrow channel
U.S. Army Corps Of Engineers Detroit District
The Ashtabula, pushed by the tug, Defiance, was the last barge through the Soo Locks for the 2022-23 Great Lakes navigation season.

Carrying more than 24,000 tons of taconite set for Burns Harbor, Indiana, the Ashtabula barge and its Defiance tugboat were the final vessels through the Soo Locks Monday to end the 2022-23 navigation season on the Great Lakes.

Weather delays over the weekend allowed the Army Corps to keep the locks open a little longer than normal. The season was supposed to end Sunday at midnight.

But ice breaking operations are at a standstill as the Coast Guard prepares for next season, which begins March 25.

Mark Gill is head of vessel traffic for the U.S. Coast Guard in Sault Ste. Marie. He said only about 5% of the Great Lakes are covered in ice right now. This time of year, it’s usually 15% to 20%.

"We thought we we're off to a banner start 16 [of] December," Gill said. "We started ice breaking activity. And normally that early in the season doesn't bode well. It means busy and lots of ice, but Mother Nature failed to deliver."

The final number of vessels that passed through the Soo Locks is still being tabulated, but Gill said early data suggests the overall ship traffic through the Soo Locks was down 15%-20% this season compared to the 25-year average.

Rick joined WCMU as a general assignment reporter in March 2022.
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