(Photo: US Coast Guard) The Coast Guard vessel Shackle was one of four vessels used in a special ice-breaking operation last winter.

BRUNSWICK — The United States Coast Guard has launched its ice breaking fleet, but to this point the Midcoast hasn’t needed much attention.

The Coast Guard announced just over a week ago that it was launching ice-breaking operations throughout the Northeast.

“We’ve mostly been working in the Penobscot Bay area up around Bangor,” said Coast Guard Lt. Matthew Odom. “We want to keep waterways open so our towns can get energy supplies.”

The ongoing work in the Northeast United States is called RENEW, or reliable energy for Northeast winters. According to the Coast Guard, more than 85 percent of heating oil is consumed in the Northeast, and 90 percent of that is delivered on a Coast Guard maintained waterway by ship.

A year ago, the winter weather caused some concern about flooding, and Coast Guard crews had to break ice on the Kennebec River.

“We had some extremely cold weather followed by a warming cycle,” said Odom.

The breakouts help reduce the risk of flooding as snow and ice on the river melts. A breakout is typically done in the spring, but weather last winter forced earlier action.  During last year’s operation on the Kennebec, Coast Guard vessels spent portions of a week in January breaking ice from Bath up to the Maine Kennebec Bridge in Richmond.

The same vessels are available this year for ice-breaking according to Odom. The Coast Guard has three 65-foot boats along with a larger 140-foot vessel to break the ice.

Odom said the weather is actively monitored, and the Coast Guard coordinates with the Maine Emergency Management Agency to decide when ice needs to be broken.

“We don’t usually do the Kennebec unless we have to or the state asks,” said Odom. “We don’t like to because of all the ice fishing there.”

Ice fishing huts have to be removed before an operation to take place, but it hasn’t been a problem this year. The weather has been cooperative, and the Coast Guard hasn’t had to plan an unexpected ice-breaking session.

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