T raffic is backed up at the Soo Locks, creating a slow start to the shipping season.
S ome ships have been waiting in Sault Ste. Marie for more than eight hours for their turn to go through. Many carrying iron and coal to Great Lake ports.
B ut their journey is being delayed until the ice is cleared and these workers can help the ship get through.
" As the ships come down , that pushes ice in front of them , it pushes them into the lock chamber . W e actually have to bring the ship about half way in then back them out lock a load of ice through and then we have to bring the ship back into the lock and lock it down," Soo Locks Area Engineer Kevin Sprague explained.
Sprague says it may be another week before this problem is cleared up. T he cold spring temperatures are the source of the problem , but they have brought in boilers to help heat up the locks.
A nd while the locks are operating slowly , a fleet of eight coast guard cutters are clearing paths along the Great Lakes and St. Mary's river.
" The ice is wide enough and thick enough to block some of the waterways, which prevent them from getting up and down the river with any kind of speed. Most the time is just trying to slow down and keep the ice from break in offshore," USCG Sault Ste. Marie Post Director of Vessel Traffic Mark Gill said.
E ven though the cutters are clearing the way , the tracks often close up within hours of being created.
B ut keeping the traffic flowing is essential , ships make more than seven thousand trips through the locks each year.
" This season is looking pretty good . L ast year we shipped about 75 million tons of cargo through the locks , we expected that we ' re better this coming season ," Sprague said.