MARQUETTE — ABC 10 News has learned that an emergency 24–hour extension was ordered early today for the closing of the Soo Locks.
The Locks were scheduled to close at midnight tonight, ending the 2014 Lake Superior shipping season. However, boats that can make it to the locks by midnight Friday will be allowed through. A few others will spend the winter on Lake Superior, Soo Locks officials say.
The 24 hour extension is due to bad weather causing a handful of boats on Lake Superior to head for the Soo or seek safe harbor. It’s been a busy 2014 shipping season and officials say they may have record numbers to report next week.
“We extended the season for down bound vessels by 24 hours, so what that means is ships have to depart a Lake Superior Port not latter than midnight of the 15th of January – and those ships would be bound for the Soo Locks,” said Kevin Sprague, an area engineer in charge of the Upper Peninsula for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“Last week we had a lot of gale force winds on Lake Superior and then with the cold temperatures we had real fast ice build–up,” said Sprague, who is stationed at the Soo Locks. “In White Fish Bay and particularly in the Upper St. Mary’s River were socked in with ice quite badly. It ended being quite a back up of traffic so vessels could not clear the system to complete their final trip.”
The 600 foot tug barge Ashtabula was loading with iron ore Thursday afternoon. With a midnight departureand down bound to Toledo, observers say its the first time that the Ashtablua has been in Marquette even though it’s one of the older tug barges. It was launched in 1929 under the name Myron C. Taylor, according to well know online shipping site boatnerd.com.
At least two other boats are tentatively expected in the area. It’s possible those two boats might arrive in Marquette but they will have to spend the winter on Lake Superior. The first, the 768–foot ‘John G. Munson’, and the 1,000 foot ‘Mesabi Miner’. The ‘Mesabi Miner’ may arrive on Saturday for a load of iron ore, if so, it too will spend the winter on Lake Superior.
“They will not be heading to Toledo, they will be spending the winter on Lake Superior somewhere,” Sprague said. “If they don’t make it [through the Soo Locks by the deadline] they have to find another place to lay up for the winter.” Whether boats end up below or above the locks, Sprague says, “they will go to a port where they can lay up for the winter.”
Two other boats were in the area of the Keweenaw Peninsula Thursday afternoon, both heading to the Soo, but possibly seeking safe harbor. Two 1,000 footers, the ‘Presque Isle’ and the ‘American Century’, were shown by radar to be just off the Keweenaw Peninsula Thursday afternoon.
“Two other boats (are located) west of Marquette and are still coming this way,” Sprague said. A third boat, the Escanaba–based 135–foot tug ‘Joyce L. Van Enkevort’, was approaching the St. Marys River system Thursday evening.
“It’s just rounding White Fish Point now, Sprague said in a phone interview about 3:30 Thursday afternoon.
In recent weeks, ore boats have been lined up four deep at the Presque Isle harbor, in both calm and gale force weather conditions. The tonnage figures for the 2014 Lake Superior shipping season is expected to be released next week, and the numbers are expected to be impressive.
“It’s going to end up better than last year,” Sprague said. “We had a really late start (to the 2014 season) because of the heavy ice. By September 2014 they had cause up to the previous years tonnage – year to date.:” Sprague calculates that although they will not hit 80 million tons, a more accurate figure will probably over 75 million tons of cargo shipped on Lake Superior during the 2014 season.
Iron ore and coal are the top two items shipped on Lake Superior, followed by grain and other commodities.