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Great Lakes shipping season ends with limited ice cover

Courtesy of the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers Detroit District
On January 16, the Ashtabula, pushed by the tug Defiance, was the last barge through the Soo Locks for the 2022-23 Great Lakes navigation season.

Carrying over 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 15-20%.

"We thought we're off to a banner start 16 December," said Gill. "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."

Gill says vessel traffic through the Soo Locks was down this season by 15-20% compared to the 25-year average.

The final number of vessels that passed through the Soo Locks is still being tabulated. But according to Gill, the early data says 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.