Congressional Leaders Recognized For Support to Increase Ice-breaking in the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Seaway

As the shipping season officially opens this week, the Chamber of Marine Commerce is honoring three U.S. Congressional leaders for their tireless efforts to increase U.S. Coast Guard icebreaking capacity on the Great Lakes.

The U.S. Coast Guard, in partnership with their Canadian counterparts, is responsible for breaking ice during the winter and spring to help ships safely deliver critical raw materials and goods to manufacturers and cities in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region.

Icebreaking also ensures that ice formation on lakes and rivers do not cause ice jams and winter flooding and damage critical infrastructure like bridges.

Champions of Commerce

The Chamber is presenting 2022 Champion of Great Lakes Marine Commerce awards to Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Todd Young (R-IN) for supporting the Great Lakes Winter Commerce Act, legislation that will define and codify the Coast Guard’s icebreaking responsibilities in the Great Lakes.

The H.R. 1561 / S. 576 Great Lakes Winter Commerce Act is included in the bipartisan base text of the Coast Guard Authorization Act currently working its way through Congress.

These legislators are also being recognized for their efforts to secure funding for the construction of a much-needed new U.S. heavy icebreaker for the Great Lakes, a project estimated to cost $350 million.

The U.S. Coast Guard currently has six small icebreaking tugs, two buoy tenders and one heavy icebreaking cutter for the Great Lakes.

However, its fleet is aging and only the one cutter has the capability to break heavy ice, despite that heavy ice conditions occur at multiple locations across the vast 1,600 miles of lakes and rivers.

In recent years, ships have been delayed or stuck in the ice due to Coast Guard resources being in another location or out of service altogether due to the need for repairs or maintenance.

Congress has recognized the inadequacy of icebreaking resources by authorizing the construction of a heavy icebreaker in 2015 but the appropriation of sufficient funds has yet to materialize.

The Chamber is asking Congress to include funds in the FY2023 Homeland Security Appropriations bill to begin acquisition and construction of the new Great Lakes heavy ice breaker.

Advantages of Shipping

Bruce Burrows, President and CEO of the Chamber of Marine Commerce, said: “We would like to thank these Members of Congress for recognizing that icebreaking enables roughly $4 billion in business revenues in the United States during the early winter and spring months, and for standing up for the proper resources needed to ensure we have the most reliable trade and transportation corridor even in harsher weather conditions.”

Burrows added that shipping already operates in some parts of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence throughout the winter and that businesses and ports were investigating more opportunities to optimize the shipping season and move more goods.

As the safest, most efficient, and environmentally smart method of transporting cargo, moving more goods on marine transportation eases highway congestion, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and acts as a catalyst for economic growth.

“The global supply chain chaos of the last two years has shone a glaring light on the need for national strategies that not only build more resilient networks but really make much smarter use of the transportation resources already at our disposal — like our inland waterways,” says Burrows.

"Great Lakes-St. Lawrence shipping has not only delivered for its traditional shipping customers, but both U.S. and Canadian ports and their partners are providing alternative solutions to companies whose raw materials or goods would otherwise be stuck or delayed on other modes or in coastal ports.

"This is the time to build on this momentum and ensure that no impediment — such as inadequate icebreaking resources — stands in the way of this progress.”

Responses From The Winners

Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) Link to full video message:

“In my home state of Wisconsin, the maritime shipping industry on the Great Lakes supports nearly 7,500 jobs and generates $1.4 billion in economic activity, helping Made in Wisconsin products get to market efficiently. But commerce in the region has suffered in recent years due to insufficient icebreaking in the region. Fortunately, we’ve made progress to address this challenge. I’ve secured initial funding for a Great Lakes icebreaker in the last six appropriations bills and authored language that established a major acquisition program office for the Great Lakes icebreaker within the Coast Guard. But we still have more work to do. That is why I’m proud to sponsor the Great Lakes Winter Commerce Act, to update the Coast Guard’s outdated Great lakes icebreaking mission and increase the icebreaking capacity of the fleet.”

Senator Todd Young (R-IN) Link to full video message:

“Today, roughly 28% of our nation’s annual economic output comes from the Great Lakes region. To preserve and expand this vital flow of goods, I introduced the Great Lakes Winter Commerce Act. This bipartisan legislation will ensure that icebreaking on the Great Lakes remains a priority of the U.S. Coast Guard and it would put real resources behind this vital mission including funding for additional icebreakers. Ensuring an ice-free Great Lakes will help businesses and workers who rely on the American maritime industry transport their goods to market.”

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) Link to full video message:

“For over the past year, I’ve been proud to work across the aisles on bills like the Great Lakes Winter Commerce Act, which would clearly define the Coast Guard’s icebreaking mission on the Great Lakes and better ensure the trade routes our industries rely on remain open for commerce year-round. Given that it’s now included in this year’s Coast Guard Authorization bill, I’m very hopeful it will get over the finish line soon.”

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