Oberstar calls for 2nd new Great Lakes icebreaker
Minnesota congressman James L. Oberstar introduced legislation Thursday calling for the construction of a second new icebreaker for the Coast Guard in the Great Lakes region.
'U.S. industries in the heartland of the United States are totally dependent on Great Lakes icebreakers to keep them supplied with raw materials during the winter months,' Oberstar said in a statement. 'Without them, steel mills would shut down for want of iron ore and electrical generation would halt for want of coal necessary to power generators.'
During the 2006-2007 winter season, more than 10.4 million tons of iron ore was transported by Great Lakes shipping from mines to the lower lakes steel mills. In addition, that winter 6.4 million tons of coal was shipped to area power plants.
Oberstar warned there's insufficient Coast Guard icebreaking capacity. 'During the spring of 2008, U.S.-flag vessels operating on the Great Lakes suffered more than $1.3 million in damages to their hulls because the Coast Guard did not have sufficient assets to keep the shipping lanes open,' he said.
He noted that ice on the lakes and their interconnecting channels is prevalent from early December to April. In some years, the Coast Guard has been breaking ice in the St. Mary's river until mid-May.
'Think of these icebreakers as the snow plows for Great Lakes shipping,' Oberstar said. 'It is the federal government's responsibility to keep these marine highways open so the needs of the public can be met.'
In 2006, the Coast Guard took delivery of the new icebreaker Mackinaw. The vessel operates year-around as a combined buoytender and icebreaker. Five of the Coast Guard's Great Lakes icebreakers are close to the end of their useful lives, Oberstar said.
Oberstar's bill, the Great Lakes Icebreaker Replacement Act (H.R. 1747), calls for $153 million to be authorized to fund a sister ship to the Mackinaw.