Draft legislation proposes additional Great Lakes icebreaker for US Coast Guard

USCGC Mackinaw, a US Coast Guard heavy icebreaker specifically built for operation on the Great Lakes (Photo: US Coast Guard)

Three US senators are reintroducing bipartisan legislation that will codify the US Coast Guard’s icebreaking mission on the Great Lakes and increase the icebreaking capacity of the Great Lakes fleet.

The Great Lakes Winter Commerce Act authored by Senators Tammy Baldwin, Todd Young, and Gary Peters is expected to achieve the following:

  • Codifies into law the coast guard’s icebreaking mission in the Great Lakes – The coast guard will be required to break ice in the Great Lakes in accordance with the reasonable demands of commerce set forth in the bill. The standards derive from a 1997 coast guard study outlining icebreaking requirements on the Great Lakes. These are written to allow the coast guard to size its icebreaker fleet to be capable of handling the vast majority of ice seasons while limiting excess capacity. The bill includes a one-time report on the operating costs associated with this new performance standard.
  • Requires the coast guard to report to Congress on the icebreaking season – The coast guard is also required to submit an annual report of its activities during the previous winter’s icebreaking activities.
  • Requires the coast guard to coordinate with industry for icebreaking operations.
  • Defines “reasonable demands of commerce.”
  • Authorises US$350 million for the construction of a new Great Lakes icebreaker and authorises the coast guard to expedite its procurement.

The bill was drafted in response to a study commissioned by the Lake Carriers’ Association, which found that, during the 2018-2019 ice-season, businesses that depend upon the Great Lakes maritime industry lost over US$1 billion in revenues because of delays caused by inadequate icebreaking.

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