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Stubborn Lake Superior ice has steel mills starved for iron ore

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Ice that's clogging Lake Superior has created a shipping bottleneck that's rippling into Great Lakes steel mills.

The Associated Press reports Coast Guard icebreakers from the U.S. and Canada have been clearing the way for the first two ore boats of the season, which left Duluth two weeks ago and are expected to finally arrive in Gary, Indiana, on Tuesday. That's a trip that normally takes about three days.

The furnaces at U.S. Steel's largest mill were idle for a week, although a company spokeswoman tells WRAL that limited production has now resumed at the Gary Works. A spokesman for the Great Lakes shipping industry tells the station iron ore supplies are running low in many places and coal shipments are down 70 percent compared to a year ago.

The AP says the ships that fought their way across Lake Superior encountered ice 2 to 3 feet thick and in some places wind and wave action created ice walls up to 14 feet high.

It's a remnant of a winter that saw 92 percent of the Great Lakes freeze over, a figure the AP says is just short of the 1979 record.

When the ships headed to Gary passed through the Soo Locks at the eastern end of Lake Superior on Friday, an engineer told Up North Live : "They would say, well we made 16 miles of progress, but the whole ice sheet got blown back four miles so it was a struggle this year."

Michael Merrick, the captain of the first ore boat through the locks, the Cason J. Callaway, told the station "I think this is the worst conditions I've seen in almost 40 years of sailing, so it definitely is a struggle."

Northland's News Center has a photo gallery of the Coast Guard ships clearing the way on Lake Superior.

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