Newly-passed legislation includes $350 million for USCG Great Lakes icebreaker

Written by Nick Blenkey
New Great Lakes icebreaker is required to be at least as capable as USCGS Mackinaw

New Great Lakes icebreaker is required to be at least as capable as USCGS Mackinaw. [USCG photograph]

Among the many pieces of legislation tacked onto the massive just-passed National Defense Authorization Act was the Great Lakes Winter Commerce Act.

It is aimed at updating the Coast Guard’s Great Lakes icebreaking mission and increasing its icebreaking capacity on the Great Lakes. It includes $350 million for the acquisition of a Great Lakes icebreaker and $20 million for the design and selection of icebreaking cutters for operation in the Great Lakes, Northeastern U.S,, and the Arctic.

The Great Lakes ice breaker is required to be at least as capable as the USCGC Mackinaw (WLBB-30), launched by Marinette Marine in 2005 and delivery on an accelerated schedule is called for.

All of this appears to be in line with proposals submitted by former USCG commandant Karl Schultz in 2020 in response to a Senate request.

The new legislation addresses a situation under which no statute has required the USCG to break ice in the Great Lakes. Instead, the USCG has followed a 1936 Executive Order requiring icebreaking “in accordance with the reasonable demands of commerce” without much definition of when, where, and what that is.

The act adds a new section to title 14 USC that:

  • Codifies into law the USCG’s icebreaking mission in the Great Lakes. Requires the USCG to break ice in the Great Lakes in accordance with the reasonable demands of commerce and standards set forth in the bill. Updating the standards will improve how the USCG measures successful icebreaking, allowing USCG to size its icebreaker fleet to handle 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 USCG to report to Congress on the icebreaking season. Requires an annual report of USCG activities during the previous winter’s icebreaking activities, including the numbers of icebreaking operations performed by each country in three categories of Great Lakes water.
  • Requires USCG to coordinate with industry for icebreaking operations.
  • Defines “reasonable demands of commerce.” “The safe movement of commercial vessels transiting ice-covered waterways in the Great Lakes, regardless of type of cargo, at a speed consistent with the design capability of Coast Guard icebreakers operating in the Great Lakes
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