The Great Lakes shipping season has kicked off after the iciest winter in 35 years.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan reopened last week after the winter shutdown. Lake freighters carry iron ore from Minnesota across Lake Superior, through the locks and down Lake Michigan to Northwest Indiana's steel mills.
The Soo Locks were closed for winter on Jan. 15, and have gotten repairs over the last few months. Work crews have had to tough out the elements and combat the extremely heavy ice on the St. Mary's River to get the locks back open.
Much of the ice cover on Lake Michigan has melted, but the Great Lakes remain 67.6 percent frozen over, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.
"Thanks to our hard-working Soo Area Office employees for braving harsh winter weather conditions we are able to open for the 2014-2015 shipping season." said Lt. Col. Robert J. Ells, district engineer. "Maintaining and operating the Soo Locks is one of the most important responsibilities of the Detroit District. The locks serve as a critical conduit for transporting commodities as part of an important waterborne transportation network, reaching deep into the continent."
Last week, the St. Lawrence Seaway also opened, launching its 56th navigation season. International ships will be able to travel through the seaway and the Great Lakes to the Port of Indiana at Burns Harbor, which is coming off its second-best year since 1998.
The seaway, which accounts for $35 billion in economic activity a year, is investing about $500 million over the next four years to modernize infrastructure, such as locks and structures.
"The significant investments in Seaway infrastructure are positioning the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System for future growth. Our asset renewal program will do more than just rebuild the lock infrastructure; the introduction of new technologies will make the waterway even safer, more efficient, and more reliable," said St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. Administrator Betty Sutton. "These investments signal a long term public commitment to shipping on the Great Lakes/Seaway System."
Cargo traffic through the Seaway is expected to exceed 38 million tons this year.