Defense bill to fund new Great Lakes heavy icebreaker

(CLEVELAND) — Thanks to the efforts of the Great Lakes congressional delegation, major milestones were reached with the passage of the James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2023, according to the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force.

The bipartisan legislation authorizes $350 million for U.S. Coast Guard acquisition of a new Great Lakes heavy icebreaker. It also proposes a Great Lakes icebreaking performance standard instead of the Coast Guard’s current tiered waterway standard, which is limited to reporting on four small connecting Great Lakes waterways and not the open lakes themselves.

Great Lakes Maritime Task Force photo

In addition, the Government Accountability Office will be tasked with studying the effectiveness of the Coast Guard’s icebreaking mission on the Great Lakes and resources needed to improve the facilitation of the winter maritime supply chain. Over the past 10 years, the lack of adequate icebreaking on the Great Lakes has caused the loss of over 10,000 jobs and $2 billion to the economy. In addition, ice jam flooding in the Great Lakes region has become extreme due to more frequent polar vortexes.

“This is a big win for the fourth sea coast. Finally, there is recognition that the (Coast Guard) is not adequately resourced to facilitate critical winter navigation on the Great Lakes,” said Jim Weakley, president of the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force. “The North American economy and our national security are dependent on the raw materials, like iron ore, that need to move effectively to maintain the nation’s steel production.”

Another key piece in the legislation was the reauthorization of the new large navigational lock in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. Due to inflation and other economic factors, the construction cost of the new lock nearly tripled, requiring Congress to add language increasing the authorized amount.

The importance of the new lock project cannot be overstated, according to the task force, with 80 million tons of cargo — valued at $6 billion and supporting 123,000 jobs — passing through the vital piece of infrastructure each year.

By Rich Miller