Coast Guard ice breakers slicing ice to keep economy moving - 13abc.com Toledo (OH) News, Weather and Sports

Coast Guard ice breakers slicing ice to keep economy moving

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Toledo, OH -

Record cold has allowed ice to swallow up the Great Lakes, but the coast guard is slicing through the ice to save the local economy. Lieutenant commanding officer John Henry said, "Sometimes you are out here for 10 to 14 hours and sometimes you only move five miles because it is that thick". Eighty-seven percent of the Great Lakes are ice covered. From western Lake Erie north to southern Lake Huron the only open water you will find is behind the Bristol Bay ice breaker. This has been the toughest year for the ice breaking crew in at least twenty years, and the general consensus is that this winter is the top two worst years since 1979. "Everything came about 1 month ahead of time", Henry said.

Nearly 7,000 jobs and 1.1 billion dollars a year comes into Toledo by boat.  The area depends on winter deliveries of heating oil, coal, and road salt. If the shipments stop, the local economy will come to a halt. Henry said, "It is a never ending struggle, but that is why we sign up for the job, that is why we are out here, and this is what we are built to do."

When we were on the Bristol Bay ice cutter, the mission was to clear a path for one freighter and a tug. The tug was the Joyce L. VanEnkevort which was on route to Toledo, but the cold weather and dense ice kept delaying those plans. Henry said, "We have the throttle all the way down right now and we are barely making about 4 knots".

The quartermasters of the watch operate on the bridge, or top deck. They are the ones that are working all of the navigational equipment, working the radio columns, communicating with vessel traffic, and making sure we are navigating safely. The cook stays busy cooking for 20 to 30 men. It isn't uncommon for the cook to fire up the outside grill on the boat even when temperatures drop below 0 degrees. Lieutenant Executive Officer Steven Kingsley said, "Actually we did have it the other day. You can always tell when we are having something on the grill. You will see the cook come in and he is bright red and he is freezing."

On the forward most part of the ship you can really feel where the ice is hitting the hull. The crew describes life on an ice breaker as living in an earthquake 10 to 14 hours a day. There are two seven man berthing areas with racks three high. It is a very tight squeeze for the crew. There is also a room on the boat devoted to emergencies that may come up while on the open water. Kingsley said, "obviously we can't call 911…we have to be self sustaining at all times and ready to fight whatever comes at us."

The mission named operation coal shovel will keep going for weeks to come thanks to the harshest winter in decades. Henry said, "That is some tough ice right snow, so unless we get some significantly warm weather day after day after day, this stuff isn't going anywhere. I am saying for at least a couple months." Eventually temperatures will warm up and when they do ice jams could happen, but if they do occur the Coast Guard will be there unclogging the jam.

 

 

 

 

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