After a year of maintenance, a U.S. Coast Guard vessel arrived in Duluth on Wednesday that will break up ice for ships moving through Lake Superior and northern Lake Michigan. The vessel’s arrival comes as Congressional lawmakers are pushing for another heavy icebreaker on the Great Lakes.
The 225-foot Coast Guard cutter Spar ended its journey from Baltimore after undergoing repairs. The vessel was commissioned in 2001, built in Marinette, Wisconsin, and originally based in Kodiak, Alaska. The vessel replaces the Coast Guard cutter Alder, which left the port last summer for maintenance before being transferred to San Francisco.
Ice cover on Lake Superior reached its peak in mid-March when nearly 80 percent of the lake was frozen. Now, just under 40 percent of the lake is covered in ice. Even so, ice has slowed the movement of vessels following the start of the shipping season on Friday with the opening of the Soo Locks.
Peace said all three are headed for ports in the lower lakes.
"And that’s vitally important because they're carrying iron ore, which is needed to be put on the dock, so those steel mills can continue to operate," said Peace.
A delay on the lakes can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 an hour depending on the size of the vessel and its cargo, said Peace. Data from the association estimates businesses lost more than $2 billion and 10,000 jobs due to delays caused by ice cover during the winters of 2013-2014, 2014-2015, and 2018-2019.
Gallagher’s proposal passed the U.S. House on Tuesday as part of the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act.
"I’m thrilled to see it pass the House and urge my colleagues in the Senate to quickly pass this bipartisan bill to ensure that we keep the Great Lakes economy moving – no matter the weather," said Gallagher in a statement.
Sen. Baldwin agreed in a statement that more capacity is needed to strengthen the supply chain and keep commerce moving.
"I’ve been working on this for the last five years, and I’m proud to see this bipartisan effort move forward and bring the Great Lakes region closer to getting the sufficient icebreaking resources needed to support Wisconsin businesses and workers," said Baldwin.
The Coast Guard has been seeking more icebreakers, but its highest priority is to add cutters in the offshore and polar regions. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in 2020 that a preliminary analysis shows there's a "limited operational need" for another Mackinaw in the Great Lakes.
Browne’s wife Nicole and their daughter greeted him and other crew members as the vessel moored in Duluth on Wednesday.
"First thing I want is a big old hug and kiss, but then I'm no longer shoveling snow. That’s his job now," laughed Nicole.
David smiled, seemingly unphased by the shift from icebreaking to shoveling.
"That's okay," said Browne. "I haven't seen the snow in a little while."