More Icebreakers, Second Poe-Sized Lock Critical to Great Lakes Shipping, Task Force Says

The laker Arthur M. Anderson beset in ice near Conneaut, Ohio, Feb. 19, 2015. Photo credit: Canadian Coast Guard
The laker Arthur M. Anderson beset in ice near Conneaut, Ohio, Feb. 19, 2015. Photo credit: Canadian Coast Guard

Too few U.S. and Canadian icebreakers and reliance on a single Poe-sized lock to connect Lake Superior to the Lower Lakes and Seaway are among the top issues currently threatening the future of shipping on the Great Lakes, the U.S.-based Great Lakes Maritime Task Force warned in its 2015 annual report released Wednesday.

“Another near arctic winter significantly impacted navigation, and then a 20-day closure of the MacArthur Lock in late summer gave us an uninviting preview of the delays and disruptions that will come should a mechanical or structural issue incapacitate the Poe Lock for a lengthy period of time. If unaddressed, neither augers well for the future of Lakes/Seaway shipping,” wrote GLMTF President Thomas Curelli in the report’s opening letter.

In the letter, Curelli called the February 2015 incident involving the U.S.-flagged Arthur M. Anderson the “poster child” for the need for more icebreakers. The 767-foot-long laker became beset in ice on the southern shore of Lake Erie and remained stuck for 5 days before it was eventually freed by a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker.

Curtelli also noted that in March, just days after the opening of the Soo Locks, the USCG Mackinaw, the U.S. Coast Guard’s most powerful heavy icebreaker in the Great Lakes, suffered a casualty to its propulsion system and was unable to operate at full strength for the remainder of the spring breakout.

In the report, GLMTF, hailed the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015, signed by President Obama this month, and the provision authored by Congresswoman Candice Miller (R-MI) that authorizes construction of a new heavy icebreaker for the Lakes. GLMTF says it will now focus its attention on having Congress appropriate the funds to build the vessel, which is estimated approximately $200 million.

GLMTF also warned that last summer’s 20-day closure of the MacArthur Lock highlights the need to create redundancy at the locks at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, by twinning the Poe Lock.

“The MacArthur Lock is 73 years old, the Poe Lock, 47. At least in this instance, vessels that normally transit the MacArthur Lock can use the Poe Lock, so cargo was delayed rather than cancelled. Poe-class vessels are too big to go through the MacArthur Lock, and they represent 70 percent of U.S.-flag carrying capacity on the Lakes. A lengthy closure of the Poe Lock would slow trade to a trickle at best,” GLMTF said in the report.

GLMTF said that although authorized by Congress at full Federal expense, a second Poe-sized lock has been stalled by a flawed analysis of the benefit/cost ratio “Fortunately, that flawed analysis is going to be reviewed, in part because a Department of Homeland Security report forecasts catastrophic and nationwide impacts if the Poe Lock is incapacitated. The Corps has reprogrammed $1.35 million for the re-evaluation and allotted 24 months for completion. We urge the Corps to complete the new analysis in not more than 18 months.”

The Task Force report did confirm some major progress on the dredging crisis: “The Corps was able to dredge 21 ports and waterways and remove 3.1 million cubic yards of sediment. The Corps’ workplan for 2016 calls for dredging 25 projects and removing 3.4 million cubic yards,” the report said.

GLMTF says it is also continuing to support S. 373, the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, as it would establish a uniform, federal ballast water standard.

The Task Force concluded its report by calling for fair trade in steel imports: “We believe in ‘May the best man win,’ but dumping steel into the U.S. market has cost the Lakes jobs and cargo. Trade in any commodity must be free but fair.”