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Lawmakers push for new Great Lakes icebreaker

Research from the Lake Carriers Association shows that more than $1 billion in revenues was sacrificed last winter due to delays resulting from inadequate icebreaking.

People watch as the 240-foot heavy icebreaker USCGC Mackinaw prepares to dock behind the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center in March of 2019. Lawmakers are advocating for the construction of a second vessel of equal or greater capabilities to serve the Great Lakes. (News Tribune file photo)
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Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith and Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin joined eight other senators in advocating for a new Great Lakes icebreaker by signing a letter sent to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Karl Schultz.

In the letter, the senators noted that more than 90 million tons of cargo move through the Great Lakes each year and cited research by the Lake Carriers Association indicating that more than $1 billion in revenues was sacrificed last winter due to delays resulting from inadequate icebreaking.

The letter says: "The Coast Guard is required by law to maintain a heavy icebreaking capability on the Great Lakes to keep our region's ports and harbors open and facilitate our nation's free flow of commerce. However, the current maintenance condition of the existing icebreaking fleet has resulted in 182 lost operating days last winter primarily due to engine failures."

Congress has provided $10 million to design and begin the procurement of a vessel at least as capable as the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw and has requested funding for such a purchase be included in the 2021 fiscal year. An icebreaker of such scale is expected to cost between $200 million and $250 million.

With a 58.5-foot beam, the Mackinaw is the only heavy icebreaker active on the Great Lakes. It was launched in November of 2005 and commissioned in 2006. The vessel replaced a 61-year-old icebreaker of the same name.

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