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Tugs roll with the crunches

SATURDAY, FEB. 16, 2008

The Pine Cat clawed its way up the St. Joe River on Friday morning, with Ken Parkin at the helm.

An ice breaker was attached to the front of the 350-horsepower tug, which lumbered up a frozen crust of the river before crunching through.

Each foot of open water was achieved with a jerk and a lurch.

“It just beats you half to death,” said Parkin, North Idaho Maritime’s tug and barge manager. “You just kind of hang on and roll with it.”

Benewah County hired the tug company to clear a 30-mile path from Lake Coeur d’Alene to the confluence of the St. Joe and St. Maries rivers. County officials hope to prevent ice floes from damming the river and flooding the community of St. Maries and low-lying areas in the St. Joe River valley.

The ice-breaking effort started Thursday morning. North Idaho Maritime is using its two largest tugs for the task – the Pine Cat and the 500-horsepower Florence Lee. The tugs labor side by side.

Crews have been working about 10 hours a day. They’ll resume the ice-breaking effort Monday morning and should reach St. Maries that evening, Parkin said.

The work costs about $375 an hour. Because Benewah County declared a weather-related state of emergency, the tug bill can be submitted to the state of Idaho for reimbursement, said Norm Suenkel, Benewah County’s director of emergency management.

The layers of ice sheathing the St. Joe River are 2 to 7 inches thick. “It’s nice out here today,” Parkin said. “The sun’s out.”

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