Congress and President Agree on Need for New Great Lakes Icebreaker

The 2020 Federal Appropriations Bills, which the President is expected to sign today, include vital language directing the U.S. Coast Guard to stand up a major acquisition program office to enhance icebreaking capacity on the Great Lakes. The Lake Carriers’ Association applauds Congress and President Trump on this significant, formal step for the acquisition of a Great Lakes heavy icebreaker.

“The Coast Guard has received $10 million in appropriations over the past two years to conduct scope and design activities for another heavy Great Lakes icebreaker. Congress has given the U.S. Coast Guard the mandate, funding, tools, and personnel to stand up the acquisition program office. Now it is time to starting building the ship,” stated Jim Weakley, President of Lake Carriers’ Association.

The acquisition program office makes the heavy Great Lakes icebreaker an official procurement project that will ultimately result in the delivery of the heavy icebreaker if fully funded. The project will need to move forward efficiently to keep waterways open on the Great Lakes. Last year jobs were lost and the economy took a $1 billion hit due to inadequate icebreaking on the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes are already starting to freeze this year and both the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards have announced they have commenced icebreaking operations for the 2019/2020 winter season.

Great Lakes Congressional members took decisive action to correct the problem, mandating that the U.S. Coast Guard build the Great Lakes heavy icebreaker the Congress authorized in 2016. Last year 17 vessels were trapped in Lake Superior’s ice for days on end, but the U.S. Coast Guard claimed complete success for keeping shipping moving. This disconnect is the result of incomplete performance measures. The vessels stuck in Superior didn’t count against the measure of success since they were not stuck in one of the four specific waterways the Coast Guard measures,” stated Weakley.

The push to get a new heavy icebreaker on the Great Lakes comes as the aging fleet of U.S. and Canadian icebreakers continue to have difficulty meeting their required mission due to maintenance problems and dwindling numbers of ships. Congress understands the critical Great Lakes supply chain and the importance to the economy and employment. Historic high water levels and ice jams on the region’s rivers compound an already mission-challenged icebreaking force. The prolonged atrophy of the Great Lakes icebreaking mission is hurting the nation. What once was a fleet of 19 U.S. and Canadian icebreakers in the 1980’s has fallen to 11 and most of those are 40 years old or older.