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      Soo Locks experience historically slow opening day

      T he Soo Locks are officially open for spring, but for the first time in 20 years no ships are passing through.

      T he extreme ice coverage on the Great Lakes is making it difficult for ships to travel and for the locks to operate.

      "N ormally at midnight when we open up there's a boat on the end of the pier waiting and then there's several in the system ," Tom Soeltner, Soo Locks Lock Master said.

      S o e ltner has been keeping a close eye on the progress of ships traveling on Lake Superior and Lake Huron, many of them carrying valuable energy resources like iron ore and coal.

      "I 'm just watching the internet , hoping they get here sometime ," Soeltner said. "I t's going to be a while ."

      S o e ltner might not see the first ship until this weekend.

      A full fleet of Coast Guard ice cutters have been working around the clock, trying to get traffic moving.

      "T he ice is so thick on the Great Lakes that it's so hard to get through without escort from the Coast Guard," Allen Frappier, Soo Locks Chief of Lock Operations said.

      T he ice is also a big problem in the locks.

      W orkers have brought in extra air compressors to pump steam through the system , so the gates don't freeze shut once the ships are ready to come through.

      E ven if everything runs smoothly , it is still a slow start to the shipping season.

      I t's not clear how much it will effect the economy , but this delay will make for a busier summer here at the locks.

      "V essels will have to make up for lost loads throughout the season , so it will probably be busier once the weather is a little nicer ," Frappier said.