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Lake freighters can again haul iron ore from Minnesota's Iron Range to Northwest Indiana's steel mills after the Soo Locks in Michigan reopened for the season.

"When it comes to first pour steel, this country's stronghold is the Great Lakes basin," said Vanta Coda, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority. "The supply chain that provides those raw materials to the region’s steel mills is a model of efficiency."

The Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, are part of a series of 16 locks from Duluth, Minn. to the Atlantic Ocean that can lift or lower ships by 600 feet, or roughly the height of a skyscraper. Roughly 4,000 ships a year pass through the locks, carrying more than 80 million tons of iron ore and other cargoes.

Northwest Indiana's steel mills depend on iron ore shipped on freighters from Minnesota and Michigan to keep the blast furnaces burning. They stockpile ore before every winter, when the Great Lakes often freeze over and become impassable.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.