Gallagher Leads Letter Urging Coast Guard to Begin Acquisition Process for New Great Lakes Icebreaker

January 31, 2020
Press Release

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), alongside other members of Congress, today sent a letter Admiral Karl Schultz, Commandant of the United States Coast Guard, urging him to swiftly implement the creation of an acquisition office for a new Great Lakes icebreaker. The acquisition office, which was mandated in the FY 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act, would be tasked with procuring this vessel as soon as possible. The bipartisan letter highlights the critical role of maritime commerce in the Great Lakes region, and calls on the Coast Guard to quickly begin the acquisition process for an additional icebreaker to help address inadequate icebreaking capabilities in the Great Lakes.

The letter states: “Over the past four decades, the Canadian Coast Guard Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River icebreaking fleet has shrunk from six icebreaking capable vessels to two and the U.S. Coast Guard Great Lakes icebreaking fleet has shrunk from 14 icebreaking capable vessels to nine. While we understand that the U.S. Coast Guard is trying to do the best it can with the assets it has, and by coordinating with the Canadian Coast Guard, our region should not have to endure reduced trade winter after winter.

A copy of the letter can be viewed HERE. The full text can be found below:

Admiral Karl L. Schultz

Commandant

United States Coast Guard

2703 Martin Luther King Jr Avenue SE

Washington, DC 20593

Dear Admiral Schultz:

On behalf of our maritime communities on the Great Lakes who depend on Coast Guard icebreaking to keep shipping lanes open during winter months, we urge you to swiftly implement the FY 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act’s creation of an acquisition office for a new Great Lakes icebreaker and begin procuring this vessel as quickly as possible.

As you know, maritime commerce on the Great Lakes is critical to our region’s economy. Fifteen to 20% of annual cargo volumes are typically transported during the annual “ice season” from mid-December to mid-April. The inability to deliver those cargoes due to inadequate icebreaking services can cost our region’s economy hundreds of millions to one billion dollars in a single winter, as happened during the winters of 2013-2014, 2014-2015, and 2018-2019. Ultimately, icebreaking performance hinges on the successful delivery of this cargo, and three out of that past seven years, the U.S. Coast Guard has been unable to provide adequate icebreaking services to the Great Lakes region. While these shortcomings may be exacerbated during unusually harsh winters, inadequate U.S. Coast Guard icebreaking capability is the foundation of the problem.

Over the past four decades, the Canadian Coast Guard Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River icebreaking fleet has shrunk from six icebreaking capable vessels to two and the U.S. Coast Guard Great Lakes icebreaking fleet has shrunk from 14 icebreaking capable vessels to nine. While we understand that the U.S. Coast Guard is trying to do the best it can with the assets it has, and by coordinating with the Canadian Coast Guard, our region should not have to endure reduced trade winter after winter. There simply are not enough icebreakers in the region anymore to sustain maritime commerce during winters that experiences historically average to above average ice.

Additionally, two-thirds of the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaking fleet in our region is more than 30 years old. The Coast Guard has recently conducted a Service Life Extension Program on six 140-foot icebreakers in the Great Lakes, yet because their main engines were not replaced, these vessels have become increasingly unreliable during the ice season. Over the past eight years, the Coast Guard Great Lakes icebreaking fleet has averaged 93 lost operational days during the ice season--the equivalent of one icebreaker--due to maintenance problems. Replacement of the 140-foot icebreaking vessels is not expected within the next decade or more. A new MACKINAW-class icebreaker could be procured in a much shorter timeframe.

Admiral, we applaud your commitment to supporting the maritime commerce that underpins our region and nation’s economy. We ask that you please stand up the Great Lakes icebreaking program office as soon as practicable, and we stand ready to assist you in any way we can.

Sincerely

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