Vessels carrying commodities to and from ports throughout the Great Lakes wait on eastern Lake Superior while U.S. and Canadian Coast Guard ice breakers create tracks for the vessels to continue transiting April 7, 2015. U.S. Coast Guard Photo

‘Great News’ For Great Lakes as House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Approves $1 Billion for U.S. Coast Guard Infrastructure, Heavy Icebreaker

Mike Schuler
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September 15, 2021

The U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Tuesday approved $1 billion for U.S. Coast Guard shore side infrastructure nationwide and $350 million for a heavy icebreaker for the Great Lakes.

The funds were approved 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 USCG facilities that are used to protect Great Lakes ports and waterways. The organization said it views a new heavy Great Lakes icebreaker as a step in the right direction “for correcting years of economic devastation,” pointing to when commercial vessels have been trapped in ice for days and unable to deliver critical cargoes.

Icebreakers are also a valuable tool for 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 USCG’s only heavy Great Lakes icebreaker was in a maintenance period and unable to respond, the GLMTF said.

“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 Great Lakes Maritime Task Force 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.”

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

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.

Led by Chair Peter DeFazio (D-OR), the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on Wednesday advanced the legislation in a 37-29 vote to invest nearly $60 billion to make America’s infrastructure more sustainable, resilient, and equitable, and to reduce carbon pollution from the transportation sector.

“From tackling climate change, to addressing racial and environmental injustices, to building back better after the COVID-19 pandemic, our nation faces big challenges. By advancing this legislation, we’re taking a key step forward in addressing those challenges,” Chair DeFazio said. “With this legislation, we can reduce carbon pollution from the transportation sector that’s driving the climate crisis and make communities more resilient to extreme weather events; connect people with good-paying jobs and affordable housing; address the planning mistakes of the past by reconnecting communities; make meaningful investments to plan for and develop high-speed rail projects; provide more people access to clean water; and make our aviation and maritime sectors greener. I look forward to seeing Congress pass this once-in-a-generation legislation because we can’t afford to squander this opportunity.”

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