Lack of Icebreakers Could Disrupt Winter Deliveries

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Hundreds of millions of dollars in commerce, including shipments of road salt, could be disrupted this winter because of an inadequate fleet of U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers, the Journal Sentinal reported.

It’s an important issue for , because millions of tons of cargo a year are moved on . About 15 percent of the deliveries are made between Dec. 15 and April 15, a period generally considered the “ice season” on the .

But the Wisconsin side of the lake is home to only one 140-ft. Coast Guard icebreaker, the docked in .

Even during a mild winter, the icebreaker isn’t always available when it’s needed, according to officials.

In 2005, the Coast Guard replaced its largest icebreaker, the Mackinaw, with a new 240-foot ship given the same name.

Replacing the 60-year-old vessel was a big step that cost more than $80 million and took about 15 years of government wrangling.

The Mackinaw, stationed in , can clear a path through the thickest of ice jams. But it’s generally available only for areas where ice is the worst, and it can’t be in two places at once.

Heavy ice in the northern sections of the Great Lakes can disrupt shipping and delay deliveries of raw materials and finished goods throughout the . The members alone move more than 115 million tons of cargo a year.

What’s needed is another 225-foot Coast Guard ship that can do double duty as an icebreaker and buoy tender on Lake Michigan, and another 140-foot icebreaker assigned to Duluth, Minn., for duty on Lake Superior, according to Weakley and others.

The has its own small icebreaker, for the harbor, but it relies on the Coast Guard to keep the main shipping channels clear.

When ships can’t reach the port because they’re stuck in the ice elsewhere, it hurts communities that need road salt, coal and industrial goods such as steel and machinery.

Source:  Journal Sentinal

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