After bitter winter, ships in Marquette harbor welcome

Familiar and iconic sights are making their way back to Marquette harbors.

About two weeks later than normal, the shipping season in Marquette’s Upper Harbor has finally begun, thanks to Operation Taconite and two U.S. Coast Guard ice-breakers.

The Morro Bay and Katmai Bay literally broke the ice over the weekend at the Lake Superior and Ishpeming Railroad Ore Dock, guiding the Kaye E. Barker and Mesabi Miner into port early Sunday morning.

Operation Taconite is an ice-breaking operation responsible for helping to ensure a successful transport of cargo in areas with a harsh winter climate. That’s certainly been the case in the Marquette area recently, particularly pertaining to Lake Superior ice.

The thick and widespread Lake Superior ice that has been the result of an extremely cold winter (and frankly, spring) has prevented boats from accessing the Marquette harbor. That delayed coal and outbound iron ore shipments, with We Energies having to purchase reserve coal from the Marquette Board of Light and Power.

With coal now starting to arrive at the dock via freighter, truck deliveries from the Shiras Steam Plant to the Presque Isle Power Plant were suspended, although future deliveries will depend on the still-abnormal Lake Superior shipping situation.

On the iron-ore side of things, LS & I Railroad Ore Dock crews began loading pellets onto the Kaye E. Barker Sunday afternoon. That’s good news for people on the receiving end of that iron ore.

There’s still that wait-and-see factor, though, that’s hanging like a thick nimbostratus cloud over the big lake. The National Weather Service in Negaunee Township issued a winter storm watch for today and Thursday for the western Upper Peninsula. Also, the NWS expected temperatures to be between 10 and 20 degrees below normal through the end of the work week.

Tuesday, NWS reported a record-low 3 degrees, which wiped out the old mark of 16 set in 1964. The new record also was the lowest temperature recorded so late in the season.

That’s not exactly a statistic to make the ice melt.

However, with the cooperation of the U.S. Coast Guard as well as ore dock and boat crews – and a little help from Mother Nature – shipping can get back to normal in Marquette.