Ice Breaking on the Hudson, Keeping a Lifeline Open

With another Deep Freeze settling into the Hudson River Valley, three Coast Guard cutters are expected to be working hard through the rest of the week trying to keep a navigation channel open from New York Harbor up to Albany.

It is a literal lifeline to upstate New York, allowing as many as 5 or 6 barges a day to head north to oil terminals in the Albany area.

"For us anything over a foot to 16 inches is pretty complicated for us to go through," said Sernior Chief Bosuns Mate Michael Koch, skipper of the cutter Wire.

The 65 foot vessel is the smallest of three the Coast Guard has been using on almost a daily basis to keep the Hudson open to the tug-barge combinations.

But there is a limit to what even its biggest cutters can handle, about 20 to 22 inches of ice.

"The whole goal is to not get to that point which is why everyday presence is so important," said Captain Linda Fagan, Captain of the Port of New York and New Jersey.

That is why the cutters run every day, back and forth, trying to keep the same channel open up and down the river.

It would seem to be a boring job, but Coast Guardsman Jorge Valcarcel set us straight.

"The river is different every day and we see bald eagles. We saw a fox this morning," Valcarcel told NBC New York.

The Coast Guard maintains there is an environmental benefit to this winter-long struggle.

Some 300 vessels per season carry 420 million gallons of heating oil from terminals on the New Jersey side of New York Harbor.

Put all of that in tanker trucks, and you would have thousands of trucks making the trip north on roads like the New Jersey Turnpike, Route 17 and the New York Throughway.

Other than a fleet of ice breakers that operate in the Great Lakes basin, the Hudson River is the only one in the nation that the Coast Guard operates ice breakers on a daily basis through each winter.

Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY

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