House panel approves $350 million for Great Lakes heavy icebreaker

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(CLEVELAND) — The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Tuesday approved $1 billion for U.S. Coast Guard shoreside infrastructure nationwide and $350 million for a heavy Great Lakes icebreaker as part of its budget reconciliation bill, an action that the Great Lake Maritime Task Force (GLMTF) called “great news for the Great Lakes.”

The GLMTF described the heavy Great Lakes icebreaker as desperately needed and expects that a portion of the infrastructure funds will go to good use replacing and repairing crumbling Great Lakes search and rescue stations and other Coast Guard facilities that are used to protect Great Lakes ports and waterways.

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The GLMTF views a new heavy Great Lakes icebreaker as a step in the right direction for correcting years of economic devastation when commercial vessels have been trapped in ice for days and unable to deliver critical cargoes vital to the nation’s economic security. The icebreaker is also the most valuable tool to combating ice jam flooding on rivers in the Great Lakes region — unfortunately too late for residents in the Detroit area who suffered catastrophic damage in February 2021 while the Coast Guard’s only heavy Great Lakes icebreaker was in a maintenance period and unable to respond.

“We are very pleased with this large step toward significant progress in maintaining navigable commercial shipping lanes on the Lakes for a greater part of each year,” said GLMTF President John Clemons, who serves as American Maritime Officers national vice president, Great Lakes. “A new and needed heavy icebreaker is crucial to U.S. commerce and will extend the ability of U.S.-flagged lakers to deliver the materials that fuel American manufacturing. AMO and American Maritime Officers Service will continue working together with members of Congress and our labor and industry partners on the task force to see this through to completion.”

“The Masters, Mates & Pilots strongly supports and greatly appreciates the decision by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to provide funding for a new heavy Great Lakes icebreaker. A new multi-mission icebreaker is an extremely important asset that is vitally needed on the Great Lakes to help keep the flow of commerce moving and maritime workers employed,” said Tom Bell, vice president, United Inland Group-Great Lakes, International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots.

“The SIU is very pleased to see funding for Great Lakes icebreaking being included in the package that was marked up today. This is a critical safety issue for our members on the Great Lakes, and we are looking forward to seeing this funding being enacted into law,” said Michael Sacco, president, Seafarers International Union.

“The Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association applauds the work on behalf of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to provide much needed funding to construct a Great Lakes icebreaker. Securing this funding is a critically important step toward facilitating the long-term commerce and growth of the Great Lakes region, as well as new economic opportunities that will help advance the domestic maritime industry,” said Adam Vokac, president, Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association.

“These appropriations are extremely important to the Great Lakes and the national economy. Three hundred fifty million dollars for a heavy Great Lakes icebreaker will pay for itself in a few years as it safely moves American shipping, keeps Great Lakes ports and facilities open for business, protects U.S. sailors and shoreline communities, and ensures jobs for hundreds of thousands of shoreside workers,” said Jim Weakley, vice president of GLMTF and president of the Lake Carriers’ Association.

“This is a signal that the Great Lakes are important to Congress and the nation. Another heavy Great Lakes icebreaker is needed now to keep Wisconsin’s waterways reliable as the most efficient means of moving critical raw materials to manufacturing facilities around the Great Lakes,” said Mark Ruge, president of Wisconsin’s Domestic Maritime Coalition.

“Great Lakes ports commend the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for including critical funds for a new heavy Great Lakes icebreaker in its reconciliation package. The new vessel will help to ensure that key waterways remain open during winter months. This translates into a more reliable navigation system, with more commerce moving through our ports and more jobs in our communities,” said Steve Fisher, executive director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association.

Additionally, the legislation includes funding for U.S. Maritime Administration (MarAd) grants to small shipyards and port infrastructure projects, which should also benefit the Great Lakes region.

The GLMTF is the largest coalition speaking for the Great Lakes shipping community, drawing its membership from both labor and management representing U.S.-flag vessel operators, shipboard and longshore unions, port authorities, cargo shippers, terminal operators, shipyards, and other Great Lakes interests.

– Great Lake Maritime Task Force

By Professional Mariner Staff