Harsens Island cut off while Coast Guard struggles to clear St. Clair River

U.S. Coast Guard photo

Ice conditions on the St. Clair River have been so bad this year, that the U.S. Coast Guard had to break ice on the Middle and North Channels for the first time since 2010.

Breaking ice in the North Channel unfortunately blocks the pathway for Champion Ferry, the only way on and off Harsens Island by car.

Normally the ferries manage to keep a pathway open through the ice. But when the cutters break up the North Channel, the broken ice blocks that pathway.

“Now we have no access to the island,” said Jim Neumann, owner of Riverside Grocery on Harsens Island. “Some people have to commute to work. Some people have doctors appointments.”

Cdr. Kevin Floyd of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Sector Detroit said the St. Clair River has been an unusually big problem this year. Last week the Coast Guard stopped freighter traffic on the river, because every freighter that tried to get through was getting stuck, Floyd said.

Normally there is a natural ice bridge that forms at the bottom of Lake Huron, holding much of the ice in the lake until the spring thaw. But the ice bridge didn’t form this year.

Plus, the water levels are a little higher. The combination of the additional ice and higher water levels raised the potential for flooding at several spots along the St. Clair River, Floyd said.

Five U.S and Canadian cutters were breaking ice on the river last week, including the Mackinaw, the largest of the ice breaking cutters, Bristol Bay, Neah Bay and Canadian Coast Guard’s Griffon and Samuel Risley. The Mackinac and the two Canadian cutters continued this week.

Floyd said the flooding danger is down, now that the water level has dropped three to six inches along the river.

A recorded message at Champions Ferry said the ferry channel was almost open and ferry service is expected to resume Thursday. Meanwhile they are offering air boat trips during daylight hours.

The Coast Guard is expected to begin escorting 12 freighters that were stacked up waiting to travel the St. Clair River. The Coast Guard will continue to escort freighters throught the winter, as conditions demand.

For the full Coast Guard press release see: http://www.d9.uscgnews.com/go/doc/4007/2452998/

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