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Breaking through to spring

Fishermen stand by as the Roberta Tabor pushes a load of 12 barges past Red Wing Monday morning. The Roberta Tabor was the first vessel to break through the ice on Lake Pepin this year, making this one of the latest starts to up-bound navigation on record.

The first tow barge of the year broke through icy Lake Pepin early Monday morning, marking one of the latest starts to the Mississippi River up-bound navigation season in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers history.

The Roberta Tabor, operated by American River Transportation Co. out of St. Louis, crunched its way through 12 to 16 inches of ice on the lake en route to St. Paul, said Patrick Moes, spokesperson for the Corps of Engineers.

Unseasonably cold weather this spring has kept Lake Pepin too frozen for barge traffic until recently, Moes said. Ice thickness actually increased after the Corps of Engineers started taking surveys of the lake in February.

While March is traditionally the start of navigation season, "Mother Nature ultimately has the 51 percent vote," Moes said.

Without factoring a May 11 start to navigation season in 2001 because of flooding on the Mississippi River, Monday's break through was the latest start due to ice in the Corps of Engineers records going back to 1969, Moes said.

The average start to the St. Paul navigation season for the past 10 years has been March 20, according to a Corps of Engineers release. The towboat Deana Ann broke through Lake Pepin on March 17 last year.

Lake Pepin is usually one of the last parts of the navigation channel to open because slow moving currents in the lake don't break up the ice as quickly as other sections of the river, according to the Corps of Engineers website.

The Roberta Tabor and its load of 12 barges arrived at U.S. Lock & Dam No. 3 in Red Wing Monday afternoon. The lock is the first destination for ships traveling north of Lake Pepin.

The Corps of Engineers anticipates an average amount of waterway traffic this season, Moes said.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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