Coast Guard using ice-breakers to free up Hudson River

Marcus Solis rides along.
January 29, 2014 3:16:14 PM PST
You may have seen parts of the Hudson River, actually frozen over during this bitter blast.

All of that ice can make it dangerous for ships, including barges that deliver home heating oil.

The Coast Guard is on the case with an ice-breaking operation, and Eyewitnes News took a ride on a cutter Wednesday morning.

It was another day at the office for the 16-man crew of the Coast Guard cutter Sturgeon Bay. In this case the Hudson River as it seldom is: frozen over, jagged chunks of ice clogging up the waterway.

"This winter is actually a big year for us, last year we really didn't see too much," said the Coast Guard's Joseph Clements.

The Sturgeon Bay is a 140-foot ice breaker, more than twice as long as other cutters. Its weight, its reinforced hull and the shape of the hull are what allow it to slice through up to three feet of ice.

The goal is to keep shipping lanes clear. Almost 70-percent of the country's home heating oil passes through our area by barge.

"It's different from everything I've done in my career, it's something that's important and people don't realize how important it is," said the Coat Guard's Jeff Valentine.

On this day the focus was on the stretch between West Point and Newburgh, where there are icy slabs up to 8 inches thick. The irony of this work is that the more ice they break, the more ice they make.

"So if you have a one inch sheet of ice that's broken and freezing on top of itself, then you have a two inch sheet of ice. And that cycle compounds itself throughout the winter," said Commanding Officer Kenneth Sauerbrunn.

And while the Sturgeon Bay may be brutally efficient at crushing ice, Mother Nature is pretty powerful too. Often the tracks that have been cleared, freeze right back up again.

"The commercial guys call us up, and we'll come out in the morning and we'll break it all out for them," said Clements.

A process that takes place in brutally cold conditions, which these guys say they actually enjoy.

"You get used to it, and I couldn't see myself doing anything else right now. It's a blast," said Clements.

And as long as this bitter blast of winter continues the Sturgeon Bay will be busy from the New York Harbor all up the way up to Albany.