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Start of 2014 Seaway shipping season delayed by ice conditions

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MASSENA — Thanks to the ongoing nasty winter, the St. Lawrence Seaway system will be getting off to a late start this navigation season.

Ice conditions have been the main culprit in the delay, and the previously set opening time of 8 a.m. on March 28 is being pushed back to the same time on March 31.

“This year it has been pushed back to the 31st and that’s typically a little later than we usually do. We have changed that date because of the historically bad ice conditions,” St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. spokeswoman Nancy T. Alcalde said.

“We are working closely with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Canadian Coast Guard and the St. Lawrence Management Corporation watching all of the weather developments. Ultimately we all share the same goals – that all of the vessel transits can be made safely while we are ever mindful of the environmental concerns.”

Associate Administrator of Seaway Operations Salvatore Pisani, based in Massena, said that a delay to the shipping season has happened in the past.

“I believe in 2003, the Seaway was scheduled to open March 25 and had to delay until March 31. This was due to very similar ice conditions as to what we are having now. It was a colder than usual spring,” he said.

With the seven-day weather forecast showing temperatures struggling to get above freezing in some areas along the river, an opening of the waters is still on the agenda for the end of March.

The spokeswoman expressed optimism that this can still be accomplished.

“The Seaway and the coast guards will continue to monitor the situation closely,” Ms. Alcalde said. “It’s just day to day with what we are able to do. The ice is there and it’s as simple as that.”

Intense winter weather conditions have already caused issues related to Seaway traffic earlier this season.

In the days following the Dec. 21 ice storm that struck along the Seaway, thick ice conditions resulted in the delay of ship traffic. On the afternoon of Dec. 24, it was reported that transit was backed up for 22 of the 36 ships on the system.

The Seaway system closed for the season on Dec. 30.

“Primarily right now, because of the ice cover, we are waiting on the Canadian Coast Guard to provide assistance and initiate the pass and then the vessels will proceed right after the ice breaker,” Mr. Pisani said. “The ice breaker doesn’t break up all of the ice you see out there but will do what is necessary for the vessel to run through. The natural progression of melting will take over and hopefully we will flush all of the ice out of the system.”

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