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Klobuchar: Defense bill 'paving the way' for second icebreaker in Duluth

The National Defense Authorization Act will authorize $350 million for another heavy icebreaker for the Great Lakes.

617506+kingICEBREAKER0325c1.jpg
Led by the big U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Mackinaw, the smaller icebreakers Morro Bay (center) and Katmai Bay arrive in succession in Duluth on March 24, 2014. The vessels were expected to lead at least three lakers from Two Harbors to the Soo Locks.
Bob King / File / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — The $858 billion defense bill passed by Congress will help the U.S. Coast Guard acquire another heavy icebreaker for the Great Lakes.

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., on Thursday announced the National Defense Authorization Act, passed by the Senate on Thursday and House last week, included her provisions "paving the way for the Port of Duluth to receive a second icebreaker."

President Joe Biden is expected to sign the defense bill into law.

The icebreaker provisions in the bill include the authorization of up to $350 million "for the for the acquisition of a Great Lakes icebreaker at least as capable as Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw (WLBB-30)," according to the bill's text.

The bill does not explicitly say where the ice breaker will be based.

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Currently, the Mackinaw is the only "heavy icebreaker" on the Great Lakes. Its home port is in Cheboygan, Michigan on Lake Huron. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Spar's home port is Duluth and although it is smaller than the Mackinaw, it is used to break ice.

Klobuchar said an additional icebreaker would "boost Duluth’s economy by making it easier for goods and products to reach the Port."

"Now that this legislation has passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support, I look forward to seeing it signed into law,” Klobuchar said.

The Coast Guard started end-of-season ice breaking Friday in the western Great Lakes in what it dubbed "Operation Taconite." It will continue through the end of the Great Lakes shipping season on Jan. 15.

coast guard vessel arrives to Duluth
U. S. Coast Guard cutter Spar docks at U.S. Coast Guard Station Duluth during a snowy morning Wednesday, March 30.
Dan Williamson / File / Duluth News Tribune

Ice breaking is at its peak when the shipping season reopens in late March. By then, much of Lake Superior can be covered in ice, which can delay the start of shipping season and cause some ships to get stuck.

A single day delay is estimated to cost $500,000 per vessel, the News Tribune reported in 2019.

In a statement to the News Tribune, Deb DeLuca, executive Director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, said the organization was "excited" to see bill passed by Senate and thanked Klobuchar.

"Once this bill is signed into law, it benefits Great Lakes shipping, the Port of Duluth-Superior and our regional economy by ensuring that maritime commerce remains free-flowing, even during the winter months," DeLuca said.

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On top of the $350 million authorized for a Great Lakes icebreaker, DeLuca pointed out several other items in the bill aimed at ice breaking on the Great Lakes: authorizing an additional $20 million to design and select ships as capable as the existing 140-foot icebreakers and updating language in a law on the Coast Guard's ice breaking metrics.

Breaking ice
The USCG icebreaking tug Biscayne Bay cuts a path through the ice covering the waters of Lake Superior as she approaches the ship canal on the way to the Duluth Superior Harbor in March 2007.
File / Duluth News Tribune

"The net result of this legislation enhances the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System as a reliable and environmentally sound link in our nation’s supply chains," DeLuca said.

In an April Senate Commerce Committee hearing to consider Adm. Linda Fagan's nomination to be the Coast Guard Commandant, Fagan told Klobuchar that the Coast Guard was committed to adding another heavy icebreaker to the Great Lakes, but did not specify its home port.

"I am committed to fielding the icebreaking capacity that we need as a nation, particularly as it pertains to the Great Lakes and the waterway inland waterways system," said Fagan, who is now the Commandant of the Coast Guard. "Our priority is an icebreaker that is at least as capable as the current Mackinaw ... We're committed as a priority to a heavy icebreaker in the Great Lakes."

Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at jlovrien@duluthnews.com or 218-723-5332.
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