“A New Heavy Icebreaker Is Essential” Claim Great Lakes Senators

US Coast Guard Icebreaker Healy Gangway
US Coast Guard Icebreaker Healy resting next to the ice floe (Photo by LCDR Lowry, USCG)

United States Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Homeland Security calling for robust funding in the fiscal year 2016 appropriations legislation for the U.S. Coast Guard to design and build a new heavy icebreaker for the Great Lakes region.

Book Cover Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
Related Book: Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing

The heavy ice seen in recent winters has seriously impaired commercial shipping and economic activity in the Great Lakes. Last winter, cargo shipping decreased by 3.2 million tons, costing $355 million in lost revenue and nearly 2,000 jobs.

“Heavy ice cover disrupts shipping and commerce on the Great Lakes, resulting in a severe loss of economic activity, revenue and jobs that depresses both the regional and national economy,” wrote the Senators in the letter. “It is essential that Congress provides the men and women of the Coast Guard with the resources they need to keep open shipping lanes in the Great Lakes and to conduct search and rescue missions to keep ships and their crews safe during winter’s cruelest months.” 

The U.S. Coast Guard now operates nine icebreaking-capable cutters on the Great Lakes, some of which date back to the 1970s. With only one heavy icebreaker in the Great Lakes fleet, the USCG MACKINAW, the Coast Guard has struggled to combat near record-breaking ice cover on the Great Lakes in recent winters. The letter was also signed by Senators Tammy Baldwin (WI), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Al Franken (MN), Bob Casey (PA), Joe Donnelly (IN) and Sherrod Brown (OH).

Gary Peters, a member of the Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard said in a statement, ” I am focused on ensuring the Coast Guard has the resources it needs to support shipping lanes and conduct its law enforcement, port security, safety duties, and other vital services.” He also called for the inclusion of a heavy icebreaker in the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015.

Senator Stabenow is Co-Chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, which is a bipartisan working group that advocates for the protection of our Great Lakes. Earlier this year, Senator Stabenow called for Congress to support a new Great Lakes icebreaker.