Icebreakers carve through Sturgeon Bay ice

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Biscayne Bay prepares for icebreaking near Sturgeon Bay
The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Biscayne Bay prepares for icebreaking near Sturgeon Bay

STURGEON BAY - The harsh winter has translated into delays in shipping on the Great Lakes.

The Port of Green Bay has been closed for four months, the longest ever. But that might be ending soon.

Inside the 140 foot long Coast Guard Cutter Biscayne Bay, the crew is getting ready for 24 hours on the water.

"There is certainly ice all the way in through here. And then it lightens up as you get closer to the city of Green Bay," said Capt. Tom Przybyla.

Capt. Przybyla and his crew cut ice for four months on three of the five Great Lakes.

"It's certainly the worst winter I've ever seen," said Przybyla.

On Thursday, the cutter carved through three feet of ice to clear shipping lanes near Sturgeon Bay.

"It's starting to rot away with the rain right now, but it's so thick that it is still impassable to commercial vessels. It is still extremely difficult for us to get through it," said Przybyla.

About 45 miles to the south, the waters near the city of Green Bay are open, but that's about it.

Port of Green Bay Director Dean Haen says the port has been closed a record four months, and the season is already two weeks behind.

"We've gotten icebreaker assistance a couple weeks ago, and no one has been able to make it in. Yes, there's a ship scheduled for the third time that the Michigan Great Lakes has attempted to plan to come to Green Bay," said Haen.

Haen says businesses are affected.

"If you are a port operator that depends on water-borne transportation, hopefully you got enough supply, you're stuck until the port is open," said Haen.

Haen says he can only wait, until the Biscayne Bay escorts the first ship to the port, on Friday.

"It is amazing how powerful a winter like this can be. With all the technology we have, it still has the ability to basically grind shipping to a halt," said Przybyla.

The Coast Guard says it will have a better idea on ice conditions in the bay after its trip Friday. It says other vessels could be cutting ice in parts of the Great Lakes for another month.