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Great Lakes Maritime Task Force President Jim Weakley remarked that the lack of Coast Guard icebreaking capabilities directly affects the carriers, their customers, and the overall North American manufacturing supply chain. With the resources they are given, the Coast Guard’s men and women do the best they can,” he said. It’s a shame that they don’t have more icebreakers to keep things moving.” Coast Guard financing for an extra Great Lakes icebreaker is now under consideration in the U.S. Senate’s budget reconciliation measure.
Due to its late arrival in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan (Sault Locks), the M/V AMERICAN CENTURY, could not make the planned closure of the Army Corps locks at Sault Ste. Marie (Soo Locks). The ship was unable to pass through the Soo Locks, which link Lake Superior to Lake Huron and beyond, because of the lack of icebreakers from the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard Cutter BISCAYNE BAY was one of the last ships to leave Lake Superior because of this. This lock closure will be without icebreakers due to the ALDER, the Coast Guard cutter typically based in Duluth, Minnesota, on the East Coast for maintenance. The Army Corps of Engineers had to start lock dewatering operations a day later than expected because of vessel delays caused by ice.
Although the formal start of icebreaking activities in the northern Great Lakes is usually on December 15th, this year’s Operation Taconite didn’t get underway until the 29th, a week later than usual.
ships were experiencing delays because lack of icebreakers
U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers were under planned overhaul, scheduled maintenance, or unscheduled repair from December 15th to January 15th, the expected closing date of the Soo Locks. Five of the company’s eight Great Lakes icebreakers were unavailable at the same time in January owing to mechanical problems. Equipment fires and engine problems resulted in 68 icebreaking cutter days. American Maritime Officers, AFL-CIO Vice President John Clemons commented, “The lives of the professional women and men sailing on Lake Michigan, the safety of the boats, and environmental protection all rely on an appropriate number of Coast Guard icebreakers being available. In recent years, inadequate icebreaking resources have resulted in ships being cut open, pushed aground, or colliding with one another. This year, a Canadian laker was almost stranded in the Straits of Mackinac because of ice. We had to wait more than 12 hours for the following Coast Guard icebreaker to arrive. Fortunately, the vessel could free itself after many difficult hours of fighting.
Last American-flagged laker arrived at its winter layup berth on January 27th, although the Soo Locks were closed on January 15th. In ports and on connected rivers and canals, ships were experiencing delays. With no operating boats, the Coast Guard is also constrained by its criteria to distribute resources and set mission performance goals. While Duluth-Superior has been ranked as the Great Lakes’ most important port in terms of tonnage, the Coast Guard does not classify its waterways as “Tier I” to break the ice. This is alarming, considering that the iron ore used to make 80 percent of the nation’s first-pour steel is mined near the western shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. In North America’s domestic steel supply chain, the Head of the Lakes is an essential connection,” said Deb DeLuca, Duluth Seaway Port Authority executive director.
Thirty-five ports on the East Coast are considered tier 1 waterways by the Coast Guard. Any Great Lakes port isn’t regarded as essential enough for icebreaking. Coast Guard tier 1 channels are found solely on the Great Lakes, and none of them are located on Lake Superior. The Coast Guard has twenty-five icebreaking boats in service; on the Great Lakes, there are just nine. Congress would be required to learn about the Coast Guard’s efforts to increase Great Lakes icebreaking standards and capabilities under the Great Lakes Winter Commerce Act (S.576 and H.R.1561).
Adequate icebreaking also avoid flooding
Soo Locks closure from January 15th to March 25th necessitates freight movement throughout the winter to keep stocks big enough to maintain the region’s steel mills, power plants, and industrial facilities. Lakers must return to their winter residences for upkeep during the shutdown period. Only a few boats will be allowed to operate on Huron, Michigan, and Erie lakes shortly. They primarily transport road salt and petroleum goods during the lock closure period.
“Adequate icebreaking not only maintains the Great Lakes Navigation System, but it also avoids floods,” said Eric Peace, the Lake Carriers’ Associations‘ Vice President, and an experienced icebreaking sailor. The St. Clair River was flooded extensively in February of last year due to an ice blockage. The Coast Guard’s lone “heavy” icebreaker was undergoing maintenance and hence unavailable. We must enact the Great Lakes Winter Commerce Act and construct an extra Great Lakes icebreaker. Both are essential to establishing a rail line, protecting residences, and keeping commerce flowing. “.” The rivers that feed into or are a component of the Great Lakes might be disrupted by sudden or frigid temperatures. This is common along the Lake Erie coastline and the Detroit and St. Clair rivers. The St. Clair River is under a flood warning for the second time this year due to heavy ice and snow accumulation.