U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) applauded the passage of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015, which authorizes the design and construction of a new Coast Guard heavy icebreaker vessel to enhance ice-breaking capability on the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes have seen record levels of ice cover over recent winters, limiting commercial shipping and other economic activity in Michigan’s waterways.
Last winter, ice cover on the Great Lakes contributed to an estimated 3.2 million ton decrease in cargo, costing nearly $355 million in lost revenue and 2,000 lost jobs.
“The Great Lakes are a natural shipping corridor for Michigan’s many natural resources, agricultural products and manufacturing, and heavy ice can restrict the ability to move goods, costing our state jobs and revenue,” said Senator Peters. “This new heavy icebreaker is a much-needed addition to the Coast Guard’s Great Lakes fleet, and will help ensure that Michigan businesses can continue to rely on shipping to move their goods year-round.”
In August, Senator Peters sent a letter urging leaders of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure to include an authorization for a Great Lakes icebreaker in the final legislation.
The Coast Guard currently operates a Great Lakes fleet that includes only nine icebreaking-capable cutters, some of which were commissioned in the 1970s. The USCGC MACKINAW, commissioned in 2006, is the only heavy icebreaker operating on the Great Lakes.
The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015 also includes a Peters provision requiring the Coast Guard and other federal agencies to conduct an assessment of oil spill response activities for cleanup in fresh water, especially under heavy ice cover.
The Coast Guard has stated that it does not have the technology or capacity for worst-case discharge cleanup under solid ice, and that its response activities are not adequate in ice-choked waters.
“The consequences of an oil spill on the Great Lakes would be devastating to Michigan’s environment and economy, and could take months or even years to clean up under the best of conditions,” said Peters.
“In recent winters, the Great Lakes have seen above average levels of ice cover, and we must have contingency plans in place to quickly and safely clean up a spill under the ice. This provision will ensure that the Coast Guard will be able to assess challenges and develop a plan to clean up spills in icy waters.”
Last year, Peters had the opportunity to visit the Coast Guard’s Bristol Bay icebreaker and see firsthand how these operations ensure shipping lanes on the Great Lakes remain accessible.
As a member of the Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, Peters is focused on ensuring the Coast Guard has the resources it needs to continue maintaining shipping lanes and conducting its law enforcement, port security and safety duties, and the many other vital services that Michigan businesses rely on.