A shipment of iron ore has made its way across the ice-choked Great Lakes to the Gary Works steel mill, where production will resume, although to a limited extent.
The massive steel mill, the largest in the nation, will operate at a reduced capacity as U.S. Steel works to replenish its iron ore stockpiles. More deliveries of iron ore are planned this week.
The raw material is essential to steelmaking, and is mixed with coal in the blast furnace to make molten iron, which is purified into steel.
Gary Works gets most of its iron ore from U.S. Steel's Minnesota Ore Operations in the Mesabi Iron Range in northern Minnesota. Ore comes by vessel across Lake Superior, into the St. Marys River, through the Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie in Northern Michigan, down past the Straits of Mackinac and south to the mills at Lake Michigan's southern shore.
But the harsh winter has left Lake Superior 80 percent frozen over. Lake freighters have not been able to navigate 40-inch shelf ice and stacks of ice chunks that reach as high as 14 feet tall.
Last week, Gary Works had to idle its blast furnaces and cease steelmaking operations because it was starving for iron ore. U.S. Steel sent a letter to customers April 2 warning them about its curtailed capacity to fulfill orders.
The mill got its first iron ore delivery Sunday, and it will be the first of several planned for this week, company spokesperson Courtney Boone said.
"The facility is operating at reduced capacity as we work to replenish iron ore inventory levels over the coming weeks," she said. "Our Great Lakes Works (near Detroit) remains off-line and we continue to evaluate the repairs needed. In the meantime, we are in contact with our customers in an effort to minimize the impact on their operations."
The first iron ore shipment came from U.S. Steel Great Lakes Works, which has been idled a giant pipe crashed through the roof, causing it to collapse, late last month. Two oncoming shipments are on vessels that just passed through the Soo Locks Monday with the help of a U.S. Coast Guard and a Canadian icebreaker, said Petty Officer Third Class Christopher Yaw. The ships departed from Two Harbors in the Duluth area more than a week ago.
Another vessel is scheduled to ferry iron ore from Great Lakes Works to Gary Works later this week.
Gary Works employs more than 5,800 workers, can produce 7.5 million net tons of steel a year and also operates steel finishing facilities.