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Lake Pepin ice putting Mississippi River shipping season on hold

With portions of Lake Pepin still covered by 27 inches of ice it may be awhile before the opening of the shipping season on the upper Mississippi River.

Ice measurements taken April 3 show that areas of the lake near Lake City have between 22-27 inches of ice.

"Tow operating companies tell us that they like to see 12 inches of ice or less before they'll try to push through," said Mark Davidson, a spokesman for the St. Paul District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Despite temperatures above freezing the last couple of weeks the ice is not melting quickly.

"One of the problems is that the last couple of weeks the nighttime temperatures have gone below freezing which causes the refreezing," Davidson said.

Last year the first barge passed through the area on March 20.

Davidson says that the next ice measurements are scheduled for April 9. The measurements can be viewed on the Corps' Web site at:

Despite the delay in the start of the shipping season this year, it may not set a record.

The latest year for the opening of the season was May 11, 2001, according to Stephen Soules, a spokesman for Upper River Services in St. Paul.

He said that ice on Lake Pepin and high river waters that year caused the late start.

Davidson hopes that the expected warm weather this weekend will help bring the ice down, but even then there may not be any barges.

According to Soules, there still aren't any barges on the river scheduled to come up to St. Paul.

This year the first barge made its way into Winona on March 30.