Chamber honors 3 lawmakers for Great Lakes icebreaker advocacy

(OTTAWA, Ontario) — As the shipping season officially opens this week, the Chamber of Marine Commerce is honoring three U.S. congressional leaders for their tireless efforts to increase U.S. Coast Guard icebreaking capacity on the Great Lakes.

The Coast Guard, in partnership with its Canadian counterparts, is responsible for breaking ice during the winter and spring to help ships safely deliver critical raw materials and goods to manufacturers and cities in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region. Icebreaking also ensures that ice formation on lakes and rivers do not cause ice jams and winter flooding and damage critical infrastructure like bridges.

The chamber is presenting 2022 Champion of Great Lakes Marine Commerce awards to Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., for supporting the Great Lakes Winter Commerce Act, legislation that will define and codify the Coast Guard’s icebreaking responsibilities in the region. H.R. 1561/S. 576 is included in the bipartisan base text of the Coast Guard Authorization Act currently working through Congress.

Tye Macfarlane/Algoma Central Corp. photo

These legislators are also being recognized for their efforts to secure funding for the construction of a much-needed new U.S. heavy icebreaker for the Great Lakes, a project estimated to cost $350 million. The Coast Guard currently has six small icebreaking tugs, two buoy tenders and one heavy icebreaking cutter for the Great Lakes. However, its fleet is aging and only the one cutter has the capability to break heavy ice, despite the fact heavy ice conditions occur at multiple locations across 1,600 miles of lakes and rivers.

In recent years, ships have been delayed or stuck in the ice due to Coast Guard resources being in another location or out of service altogether due to the need for repairs or maintenance.

Congress has recognized the inadequacy of icebreaking resources by authorizing the construction of a heavy icebreaker in 2015, but the appropriation of sufficient funds has yet to materialize. The chamber is asking Congress to include funds in the FY 2023 Homeland Security Appropriations bill to begin acquisition and construction of the new Great Lakes heavy icebreaker.

“We would like to thank these members of Congress for recognizing that icebreaking enables roughly $4 billion in business revenues in the U.S. during the early winter and spring months, and for standing up for the proper resources needed to ensure we have the most reliable trade and transportation corridor even in harsher weather conditions,” said Bruce Burrows, president and CEO of the Chamber of Marine Commerce.

Burrows added that shipping already operates in some parts of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence throughout the winter and that businesses and ports were investigating more opportunities to optimize the shipping season and move more goods.

“The global supply chain chaos of the last two years has shone a glaring light on the need for national strategies that not only build more resilient networks but really make much smarter use of the transportation resources already at our disposal — like our inland waterways,” said Burrows. “Great Lakes-St. Lawrence shipping has not only delivered for its traditional shipping customers but both U.S. and Canadian ports and their partners are providing alternative solutions to companies whose raw materials or goods would otherwise be stuck or delayed on other modes, or in coastal ports. This is the time to build on this momentum and ensure that no impediment – such as inadequate icebreaking resources – stands in the way of this progress.”

– Chamber of Marine Commerce


By Rich Miller