U.S. Coast Guard Sector Sault Sainte Marie commenced Operation Taconite this morning in response to expanded ice growth in the commercial ports of Western Lake Superior, Green Bay and the lower St Marys River. Before ice impedes commercial navigation, several icebreakers were assigned to each region.
Overnight, USCGC MACKINAW was dispatched to Green Bay to assist two vessels into the Port of Green Bay. USCGC ALDER was assigned to manage the ice breaking needs of western Lake Superior, specifically the twin ports of Duluth, MN and Superior, WI. USCGCs MOBILE BAY and KATMAI BAY were assigned to the St Marys River. In the coming days as ice growth expands on the Great Lakes, additional Coast Guard ice breakers will join the operation.
Operation Taconite is the Coast Guard’s largest domestic icebreaking operation. The operation encompasses Lake Superior, St. Marys River, the Straits of Mackinac, Georgian Bay, and all of Lake Michigan. As part of Operation Taconite’s commencement, the process of closing the Pipe Island and West Neebish Channels in the St Marys River has begun, with an effective closure time of 1 pm on 16 January 2016. In the coming weeks, additional waterways may close after due consideration is given to the protection of the marine environment, the need for cross channel traffic (e.g. ferries) and the safety of the island residents; who in the course of their daily business use naturally formed ice bridges for transportation to and from the mainland.
The implementation of Operation Taconite places additional movement criteria on commercial ships plying the Western Lakes, St. Marys River, and the Straits of Mackinac. These measures include restricting tanker transits to daylight in the presence of ice, reducing speeds by 2 miles per hour in specified locations to reduce incidental ice breaking, and requiring additional voice and position reporting points throughout the operation’s area of responsibility. The Coast Guard recommends all recreational ice users plan their activities carefully, dress appropriately, use caution on the ice, and stay away from shipping channels. Recreational users and island residents should stay tuned to local media resources for the status of regional waterway closures.