The mv. Phillip M. Pfeffer with six barges approaches the Twin Cities after breaking the ice in Lake Pepin. (Photo courtesy of St. Paul Engineer District)

Two Ingram Tows Break Lake Pepin Ice, Reach Twin Cities

The St. Paul Engineer District locked the mv. Phillip M. Pfeffer with six barges through Lock and Dam 2, in Hastings, Minn., on March 12, en route to St. Paul, Minn. The tow, along with the mv. Neil N. Diehl, broke through the ice in Lake Pepin the weekend of March 11-12.

The twin-screw, 6,120-hp. Phillip M. Pfeffer was built in 1982 by Dravo Corporation at Neville Island, Pa. It was formerly known as the Agamemnon when it was owned by American Financial Corporation. The twin-screw, 6,120-hp. Neil N. Diehl was also built by Dravo at Neville Island, but in 1981. It, too, had a former name from Greek mythology—the Parthenon, when it was owned by Great American Life Insurance Company, and operated by Spartan Transportation Group. It was renamed in 1989 by Ingram Barge Company.

The lockage marks the unofficial start to the 2023 navigation season on the Upper Mississippi.

“We’re happy our vessels were able to safely get to St. Paul last week, said John Roberts, president and CEO of Ingram Marine Group. “Each year the timing in which we can get to the cities is a little unknown; it’s always driven by conditions and safety for our crew and equipment.  Capt. Tommy Cagle and Capt. Mike Slaby and the crews of the mv. Neil N. Diehl and mv. Phillip M. Pfeffer were able to maneuver through Lake Pepin, enabling us to meet the needs of some our customers a little earlier this year. I would like to thank both captains and their crews for their responsible operations as they made this trip up north.”

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Lake Pepin is the last major barrier for vessels reaching the head of the navigation channel in St. Paul. Located between the Minnesota cities of Red Wing and Wabasha, Lake Pepin is the last part of the river to break up ice because the river is wider and the current is slower there than in other parts of the river. If a tow can make it through Lake Pepin, it can make it all the way to St. Paul. The Corps of Engineers measures ice thickness on Lake Pepin throughout the spring to report to towing companies about the impending ice-out.

This year’s first tow was about one week ahead of the average. In the last 30 years, the average opening date of the navigation season has been March 20; last year, it was on March 21. The earliest date for an upbound tow to reach Lock and Dam 2 was March 4, which happened in 1983, 1984 and 2000. The latest arrival date in a non-flood year was April 4, 2008. Historic flooding in 2001 delayed the arrival of the first tow until May 11.

The St. Paul District maintains a 9-foot-deep navigation channel and operates 12 locks and dams to support navigation from Minneapolis to Guttenberg, Iowa.

Caption for photo: The mv. Phillip M. Pfeffer with six barges approaches the Twin Cities after breaking the ice in Lake Pepin. (Photo courtesy of St. Paul Engineer District)