Mar 2, 2015 4:42 PM

Ice slows business, traffic on Northeast, Midwest waterways

The Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) Waterways around the Northeast and the Midwest are beset by ice more than a foot thick in some places, making life miserable for people who make their living on the water.

Portland resident Scott Werner said this winter has been "a horror show" for him and other lobster fishermen. He said the ice has prevented him from getting his boat out to fish in recent weeks, cutting into his ability to make money in the already slow winter lobster season.

"I'm not going to risk it. I don't want to break anything," Werner said. "It's been brutal, but what are you going to do?"

Iced waterways are a problem in other Northeast locations, such as off Boston, where a commuter ferry carrying more than 100 passengers got delayed by about 45 minutes by the coastal ice pack on Feb. 20. A blanket of thick ice also has spread across the Great Lakes for the second consecutive winter, posing hardships for shippers and crews aboard Coast Guard icebreaking vessels but creating spectacular scenery along shorelines.

In New York, the Coast Guard is cutting ice on the Hudson River so barges carrying heating oil, gasoline and jet fuel can reach their destinations. The thickest ice is in the area of Germantown and Hudson, north of New York City. In some spots the ice is a foot and a half thick, Coast Guard officials said.

"The barges traveling from New York City to Albany have the most difficult time transiting through that one area, so that's where the Coast Guard is devoting its effort to keep clean," Coast Guard Lt. Ken Sauerbrunn said.

As of Sunday night on the Great Lakes, 88.3 percent of the inland seas' surface area had frozen, according to the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The ice cover topped out at 92.2 percent last winter, narrowly missing the record of 94.7 percent set in 1979.

It was the coldest February on record in Portland, according to National Weather Service records that go back to 1940. The frigid temperatures froze more than 10 lobster fishing boats in ice off Portland, said Bill Needelman, the city's waterfront coordinator. Fewer fishermen have been able to pursue key food fish such as haddock and pollock, which has cut into landings at the city's fish pier and lessened activity at the Portland Fish Exchange auction, he said.

The ice also is causing damage to piers and could contribute to erosion, Needelman said. He said this year's ice likely will take a heavy toll on waterfront infrastructure in the city.

"It's a highly destructive force, and we can anticipate that there will be a lot of maintenance needs and repair needs," he said.

The Coast Guard experienced two weeks in February when its ice-cutting tug, Shackle, was out cutting ice every day, Chief Warrant Officer Bob Albert said. Cutting was needed in Portland Harbor, the Fore River and parts of Casco Bay to allow for petroleum deliveries and for commuter ferries and fishing vessels to traverse the waterways, he said.

"The demand for ice breaking this year has exceeded any demands that have been placed on the Coast Guard at any time in the last 10 years," Albert said.


Associated Press writers Ted Shaffrey in Germantown, New York, and John Flesher in Traverse City, Michigan, contributed to this report.


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