Coast Guard Sector Detroit begins ice breaking operation early

St. Clair River, Mich. - Canadian coast guard icebreaker Griffon and U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay work to flush the ice jam in the St. Clair River March 21, 2010, as part of Operation Coal Shovel during the 2009-2010 Great Lakes ice breaking season. Photo courtesy of Motor Vessel Presque Isle.

Canadian coast guard icebreaker Griffon and U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay work to flush the ice jam in the St. Clair River March 21, 2010. Photo courtesy of Motor Vessel Presque Isle. .

DETROIT – The U.S. Coast Guard commenced Operation Coal Shovel today after colder temperatures caused a rapid development of ice in the eastern Great Lakes.

Originally scheduled to begin Friday, Operation Coal Shovel is the ice breaking operation for the southern part of Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair, the St. Clair/Detroit River systems, and lakes Erie and Ontario.

As the 2010-2011 Operation Coal Shovel begins, U.S. Coast Guard Sector Detroit and Canadian coast guard partners will continue their proactive attempts to identify declining waterway conditions and potentially hazardous ice conditions early. Sector Detroit provides command and control for Operation Coal Shovel, and may close or open the waterways as ice conditions dictate. Due consideration is given to the protection of the marine environment and waterways, aids to navigation, the need for cross-channel ferry traffic, the availability of icebreakers, and the safety of the island residents who use naturally formed ice bridges for transportation to and from the mainland.

During the 2009-2010 ice season, Operation Coal Shovel managed ice breaking efforts during one of the worst ice conditions experienced on the St. Clair River since 1984. On three separate occurrences, ice jams created the potential for flood damage to the St. Clair River communities and disrupted the flow of maritime commerce. Coast Guard icebreakers worked diligently to flush the ice down the river in order to mitigate the threat of flooding and property damage. In carrying out the mission, U.S. and Canadian vessels coordinated and conducted over 1,500 hours of ice breaking in the eastern Great Lakes. These actions minimized the potential for residential flooding and quickly reopened the Great Lakes maritime transportation system for the movement of commercial vessels that had become beset in the ice, resulting in continued movement of more than 300,000 tons of vital cargo through the Detroit/St. Clair River system.

The Coast Guard recommends all recreational ice users plan their activities carefully, use caution on the ice, and stay away from shipping channels. Waterway users and island residents should stay tuned to local media resources for the status of channel closures.

The domestic ice breaking operation for the western Great Lakes, Operation Taconite, commenced on Dec. 6.

The U.S. Coast Guard is one of the five armed forces of the United States and the only military organization within the Department of Homeland Security. Sector Detroit is the parent command to 11 subordinate units in Eastern Michigan and Western Ohio, stretches from Alpena, Mich., to Marblehead, Ohio, and is responsible for all Coast Guard missions in the United States navigable waters along a 472-mile international border with Canada. Coast Guard Sector Detroit and its tenant commands make up the largest active-duty military presence within the Detroit city limits. The Coast Guard’s history in Detroit dates back as early as 1874 with the completion of the still standing U.S. Lighthouse Service building, which is adjacent to the current Sector Detroit facility at the foot of Mt. Elliott Avenue.

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