A breakthrough for Great Lakes shipping, Congress authorizes a new heavy icebreaker
The $858B defense bill includes authorization for another icebreaker
By Danielle Kaeding
- Wednesday, December 21, 2022, 1:00pm
U.S.Congressional lawmakers have authorized another heavy icebreaker on the Great Lakes
The authorization of a $350 million heavy icebreaker is vital after thick ice cover in the last decade has cost billions of dollars in shipping delays. They say authorization is a key step toward securing money for a new U.S. Coast Guard cutter to keep commerce moving.
“In the cold winter months, icebreaking helps keep the economies and communities around the Great Lakes moving, and allows Midwest businesses to get their goods from point A to point B,” “These new funds authorized for a Great Lakes icebreaker will help the Coast Guard fulfill their icebreaking mission.”
Duluth Minnesota, Thunder Bay, ON and other Great Lake Port Cities rely on the Coast Guard’s icebreaking operations to ship goods manufactured in the area to other destinations on the lakes.
“When our capacity is diminished because one or more of the icebreakers are under repair or other circumstances, people lose jobs. And, we lose millions upon millions of dollars in commerce.”
Photo courtesy of the Lake Carriers’ Association
A delay on the lakes can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 an hour depending on the size of the vessel and its cargo, according to Eric Peace, vice president of the Lake Carriers’ Association. The trade group represents the U.S.-flagged fleet on the Great Lakes that shipped more than 81 million tons of cargo last year. Data from the association estimates businesses lost more than $2 billion and 10,000 jobs due to delays caused by ice cover during the winters of 2013-14, 2014-15, and 2018-19.
“Icebreaking is critical to our national economic security, not just regionally here on the Great Lakes, but the entire nation We’re shipping raw materials that produce vital things like steel, concrete, you name it.”
The U.S Coast Guard currently has six aging icebreakers on the lakes that are roughly 40 years old, according to Lorne Thomas, chief of external affairs for the U.S. Coast Guard’s 9th District in Cleveland.
Thomas said the agency is committed to additional icebreaking capacity on the Great Lakes.
“If we have a decent ice year, a lot of ice will stack up in Whitefish Bay in the eastern part of Lake Superior because it breaks up, melts, then gets pushed by the wind and it kind of stacks up,” Thomas said. “So you want something to be able to break through that.”
Even so, it will likely be years before another icebreaker becomes operational on the lakes. Last year, the U.S. Congressional Budget Office estimated it would take 11 years to design and construct it. Initial design of another heavy icebreaker is already underway, but no construction will begin until the Coast Guard secures more funding.
It will be a multi-year process, including in the early stages, design, and blueprints, etc. Then, as that progresses, ultimately, there’ll be a selection of a shipyard and construction of the heavy Great Lakes icebreaker.
Duluth Seaway Port Authority Executive Director Deb DeLuca said a new heavy icebreaker will benefit the furthest inland port. She noted the western edge of Lake Superior didn’t have a Coast Guard cutter when the shipping season opened this year, creating a tough start to the season.
“The port of Duluth-Superior and our regional economy are greatly benefited by maritime commerce being able to remain free-flowing throughout the shipping season,” DeLuca said. “Twenty percent of the entire season’s shipments can occur when ice is present, but only if there’s adequate ice breaking.”
The U.S Coast Guard wants more heavy icebreaking capability to add a layer of redundancy if something happens to its lone heavy icebreaker, the Mackinaw. In the meantime, he said the agency needs additional funding in a future budget whether it’s this year or next before it can begin the procurement process on a new cutter.