The ice on Lake Pepin suggests we won't see a repeat of last year's early start to the barge shipping season on the Twin Cities stretch of the Mississippi River.

Last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers declined to do its weekly late-winter measurements of the Lake Pepin ice because the sharp cold probably made the ice thicker, not thinner, said corps spokesman Patrick Moes.

The corps began sampling ice Feb. 13 on the 21-mile-long lake, actually a wide spot in the Mississippi from about Red Wing to Wabasha. The information is used primarily by barge shippers, who judge when they might be able to break through the remaining ice to reach St. Paul, informally opening the shipping season.

Shippers generally wait until ice is less than a foot thick to try to break through, Moes said. On Feb. 13, ice along most of the preferred shipping route was nearly double that. The average date of the first tow's arrival in St. Paul is March 20.

bill mCauliffe