Port Huron Times-Herald: Senators seek funding for Great Lakes icebreaker in 2021 federal budget
Michigan's two senators are asking the federal government to provide more ice breaking assets for the Great Lakes.
Democratic Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow signed a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and United States Coast Guard Admiral Karl Schultz.
Congress approved funding for an acquisition office in 2015, but the executive branch has not yet requested budgetary funds for an actual ship, Peters spokesperson Ryan Flynn said.
A study by the Lake Carrier's Association calculated $1 billion in lost revenues due to delays caused by inadequate ice breaking during winter of 2018-19.
"Back in 1979, we had 20 ice breaking ships between the U.S. and Canada, and now we're down to 11,'' said Eric Peace, operations and communications director for the Lake Carriers Association.
"The Coast Guard does a good job, U.S. and Canadian, but unfortunately they don't have enough assets."
Other Great Lakes senators who signed the letter include Tammy Baldwin, D-WI, Rob Portman, R-OH, Chuck Schumer, D-NY, Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, Tina Smith, D-MN, Richard Durbin, D-IL, Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, Sherrod Brown, D-OH, and Todd Young, R-IN.
Congress approved funding for another ship on par with the heavy icebreaker Mackinaw, plus funding for an acquisition office to "support the design and procurement of a vessel," according to the letter.
A separate joint statement from Peters and Stabenow blamed the White House for lack of movement on the issue.
"Yet to date, the Trump Administration has not requested funding for an additional Great Lakes icebreaker vessel in the annual budget submitted to Congress," the statement said.
The Lake Carrier's Association raised concerns in December about the state of Great Lakes ice breaking capabilities. The association lamented delays it attributed to a declining number of ships and outage time for older icebreakers needing maintenance.
"Our industry requires efficient deliveries this winter which customers depend on to keep their operations uninterrupted," LCA Board Chairman Mark Pietrocarlo said in a news release.
This winter has been a pretty clear year for ice coverage on the Great Lakes, but it's not always so easy. An analysis of Great Lakes Surface ice taken on Feb. 2, 2020 found a total Great Lakes ice cover of 6.8 %. The same date in 2018 and 2019 had ice coverage of 45.1% and 29.1% respectively.
"Last year was a bad ice year, this year there's no ice," Peace said. "So everybody kind of moves on from it, but we'll be right back to this next year."
By: Jeremy Ervin
Source: Port Huron Times-Herald
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