Press Release

Posted on February 2, 2022

Lack of Coast Guard Icebreaking Disrupts Supply Chain and Delays Soo Lock Dewatering

CLEVELAND, OHIO (February 2, 2022) – Despite a relatively mild and delayed onset of winter in the Great Lakes, U.S.-flag “lakers” were hampered by a lack of Coast Guard icebreaking assets. A total of 750,000 tons of carrying capacity for iron ore, coal and cement were delayed. 20 voyages were delayed for a total of 325 hours. “The inefficiency introduced into the Great Lakes Navigation System by inadequate Coast Guard icebreaking resources impacts the carriers, their customers and the entire North American Manufacturing supply chain,” said Jim Weakley, President of Great Lakes Maritime Task Force, and the Lake Carriers’ Association. He continued, “The men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard do the best they can with the resources they are provided. Unfortunately, they do not have enough icebreakers to keep the system operating efficiently.” Budget reconciliation legislation now being considered in the U.S. Senate would provide the Coast Guard with funding for an additional Great Lakes icebreaker.

Even though the M/V AMERICAN CENTURY cleared the regulatory check-in point in time to meet the scheduled closing of the Army Corps Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, MI (Soo Locks), it became beset in the St. Mary’s River. Coast Guard icebreakers were not able to free the vessel in time for its planned transit through the Soo Locks, which connect Lake Superior to Lake Huron and beyond. This delayed the downbound lockage’s of the last vessels leaving Lake Superior, including the Coast Guard Cutter BISCAYNE BAY. Since the vessel normally stationed in Duluth, Minnesota, the Coast Guard Cutter ALDER, is on the East Coast for an overhaul, there are no icebreakers on Lake Superior during the lock closure. The ice induced vessel delays forced the Army Corps of Engineers to begin lock dewatering operations a day later than planned.

Typically, the icebreaking season begins on December 15th each year; however, this year Operation Taconite, which marks the official beginning of icebreaking operations in the Northern Great Lakes did not begin until December 29th. From December 15th until January 15th, the scheduled closure date of the Soo Locks, the U.S. Coast Guard had four of its nine Great Lakes icebreakers in scheduled overhaul, scheduled maintenance, or unscheduled maintenance periods. At one point in January, five of its eight icebreakers operating on the Great Lakes were simultaneously unavailable due to mechanical failures. A total of 68 icebreaking cutter days were lost due to equipment fires or engine breakdowns. John Clemons, Great Lakes Maritime Task Force’s Vice President and with American Maritime Officers, AFL-CIO, stated, “The lives of the professional women and men sailing aboard lakers, the safety of the vessels and the protection of the environment depend on adequate Coast Guard icebreakers. In recent years, vessels have been sliced open, forced aground or collided with each other because of inadequate icebreaking resources.” In fact, one Canadian laker was almost forced aground in the Straits of Mackinac by ice this year. The closest Coast Guard icebreaker was over 12 hours away. Fortunately, the vessel was able to free itself after struggling for several tense hours.

Even though the Soo Locks officially closed on January 15th, as of January 27th, the last U.S.-flag laker is just now arriving to its winter layup birth. Vessel delays were experienced in ports and in connecting rivers and waterways. In addition to a lack of operational vessels, the Coast Guard is hamstrung by metrics it uses to allocate resources and determine mission performance standards. “The Port of Duluth-Superior is the Great Lakes’ top port by tonnage and one of the nation’s top twenty, but the Coast Guard doesn’t consider its waterways as ‘Tier I’ for icebreaking purposes. This is troubling given that Minnesota’s docks along the western edge of Lake Superior provide the iron ore to produce 80 percent of the nation’s first-pour steel. The Head of the Lakes is a vital link in North America’s domestic steel production supply chain,” said Deb DeLuca, executive director, Duluth Seaway Port Authority.

The Coast Guard counts thirty-five ports on the East Coast as tier 1 waterways. They don’t consider any Great Lakes port as that important for icebreaking. On the entire Great Lakes, the Coast Guard only considers four connecting waterways as tier 1, none of which are on Lake Superior. The Coast Guard operates twenty-five icebreaking vessels on the East Coast and only nine on the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Winter Commerce Act (S.576 and H.R.1561) would require the Coast Guard to report to Congress on its plans to improve Great Lakes icebreaking standards and capabilities.

Lakers need to move cargo in the winter to ensure that stockpiles are large enough to sustain the regions steel mills, power plants and industrial facilities to survive the closure of the Soo Locks from January 15th to March 25th. During the closure period, lakers need to make it to their winter homes for maintenance. A few vessels will continue to operate in Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Erie. They primarily move road salt and petroleum products during the lock closure period.

Eric Peace, the Lake Carriers’ Associations’ Vice President and an experienced icebreaking sailor noted, “Adequate icebreaking not only supports the Great Lakes Navigation System, but it also prevents flooding. Last February, we saw extensive flooding because of an ice dam in the St. Clair River. At the time the lone “heavy” icebreaker operated by the Coast Guard was not available because it was undergoing repairs. We need to build an additional Great Lakes icebreaker and pass the Great Lakes Winter Commerce Act. Both are needed to establish a track line, protect homeowners and keep commerce moving.” Sudden or extreme cold temperatures can upset the natural flow of the rivers that feed into or are part of the Great Lakes. In addition to the Detroit and St. Clair Rivers, this often happens along the Lake Erie shoreline. Flood warnings have already been posted once this year for the St. Clair River and are bound to persist with heavy ice and snow already present in the area.
Great Lakes Maritime Task Force

About Great Lakes Maritime Task Force
The Great Lakes Maritime Task Force, with 74 members, is the largest coalition to speak for the Great Lakes Navigation System. Advocating for domestic and international shipping, its members represent labor and management from U.S.-flag vessel operators, shipboard and longshore unions, port authorities, cargo shippers, terminal operators, shipyards, and other Great Lakes interests. The Great Lakes commercial maritime industry supports more than 147,000 American jobs in eight Great Lakes states and generates more than $25 billion in economic activity.

Press Release

Posted on December 6, 2021

Great Lakes Maritime Task Force Annual Report

CLEVELAND, OHIO (December 6, 2021) – Today the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force (GLMTF) released their annual report for 2021, available here.

The report includes some significant accomplishments advanced by GLMTF members over the past few years to include progress on the Great Lakes dredging crisis, efficient funding of the new large navigational lock in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and pending legislation to improve U.S. Coast Guard icebreaking performance measures along with funding for a new heavy Great Lakes icebreaker.

Other priorities for the Task Force include appropriating sufficient federal funding for the state maritime academies, including the Great Lakes Maritime Academy in Traverse City, Michigan, smart ballast water regulations that are uniform across the Great Lakes binational navigation system, continued strict adherence to the “Jones Act” which is a cornerstone of U.S. national security, increased use of waterways for short-distance shipping, and support for Great Lakes shipyards with federal tax policies that encourage modernization with investment tax credits.

The report also highlights the rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic as Great Lakes ports continue to surge with increased cargo numbers across the board.  “Virtually every Great Lakes port has seen an increase in activity.  Maintaining this momentum is critical as the economy continues to recover from the COVID pandemic and major infrastructure improvements will require the raw materials and products manufactured from those materials here on the Great Lakes to build the needs of the future strengthening the North American economy.  The Fourth Sea Coast remains the pilot light of the North American economy,” said Jim Weakley, the newly elected GLMTF President.

About Great Lakes Maritime Task Force

The Great Lakes Maritime Task Force, with 74 members, is the largest coalition to speak for the Great Lakes Navigation System.  Advocating for domestic and international shipping, its members represent labor and management from U.S.-flag vessel operators, shipboard and longshore unions, port authorities, cargo shippers, terminal operators, shipyards, and other Great Lakes interests. The Great Lakes commercial maritime industry supports more than 147,000 American jobs in eight Great Lakes states and generates more than $25 billion in economic activity.

Press Release

Posted on November 19, 2021

U.S. Senator Gary Peters 2021 Legislator of the Year 

CLEVELAND, OHIO (November 18, 2021) – Today the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force (GLMTF) recognized the tremendous work done by Michigan U.S. Senator Gary Peters for protecting and advancing the Great Lakes Navigation System. 

Senator Peters has moved the needle on several extremely important projects in the Great Lakes.  He continues to be instrumental in efficiently funding the construction of a new large navigational lock in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan.  Senator Peters understands the economic benefits of Great Lakes shipping and the need to make our ports competitive and reliable even during the winter season.  To that end, he cosponsored the “Great Lakes Winter Commerce Act” which would make icebreaking a higher priority for the U.S. Coast Guard and ensured $350 million was included in the pending House Reconciliation Bill for another heavy Great Lakes icebreaker.  In addition, he has worked tirelessly with the Port of Monroe to resolve import and export issues associated with U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s interpretation of rules that hampered further port development with containerized cargo. 

“The Great Lakes have and continue to be at the heart of Senator Peters’ leadership. His deckplate approach and unrelenting support have allowed the Port of Monroe to prosper while setting the course for our future as a sustainable seaport. I am humbly appreciative that the Senator’s efforts are being recognized with this award as his identity as a true champion of the Great Lakes maritime industry is rivaled only by the admiration we have for his efforts,” stated Paul LaMarre, GLMTF member and Port Director for Monroe, Michigan. 

Senator Peters was a strong advocate for the passage of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 2020 which ensures consistent funding from the Harbor Maintenance Trust for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  The funds are critical to maintaining the 60 federally-maintained deep-draft ports on the Great Lakes along with navigational structures which have suffered severe damage due to higher water levels. 

The Senator has made protecting the Great Lakes one of his top priorities.  In late 2020, he secured a bipartisan provision that was signed into law as part of the year-end funding bill to provide the first increase in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GRLI) funding since the program was established in 2010.  The GLRI is critical to cleaning up the Great Lakes and protecting them for future generations. 

In addition, Senator Peters was able to get bipartisan legislation signed into law called the STORM Act to support local communities facing rising water levels, coastal erosion, and flooding that have put homes, property, and communities at risk. The bill authorizes FEMA to help states establish revolving loan funds that local governments could access to help mitigate the impacts of rising water levels, coastal erosion, and other natural disasters in a more cost-effective way. He secured an initial $500 million for the program in the bipartisan infrastructure bill.  He also announced that the Coast Guard’s National Center of Expertise – which he envisioned, got signed into law and secured funding for – will be headquartered in Michigan at both Lake Superior State University and the Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab in Ann Arbor. The Center of Expertise will research and examine the impacts of oil spills in freshwater environments – for which there is little publicly available information on – and help develop effective responses. 

Finally, Senator Peters introduced the “CADETS Act” in June 2021.  The bill would expand the age eligibility for the Student Incentive Payment (SIP), which provides financial assistance to cadets who attend one of the six State Maritime Academies – including The Great Lakes Maritime Academy in Traverse City, Michigan.  In return for their commitment to serve in the U.S. Navy Reserve at their time of graduation, cadets can receive up to $32,000 in incentive payments over four years to help offset the cost of tuition, uniforms, books, and living costs.  “As a former Naval Reservist, Senator Peters recognizes the importance of this program to both the cadets and our national security,” noted Jim Weakley, GLMTF’s Vice President and co-chair of Great Lakes Maritime Academy’s Board of Visitors. 

“The Great Lakes Maritime Task Force is grateful for Senator Peters’ leadership and ambition to ensure the Great Lakes remain protected and forever the pilot light of the North American economy.  The Fourth Sea Coast needs relentless champions like Senator Peters,” stated John Clemons, President of the GLMTF. 

“The Great Lakes are more than just an economic engine and ecological treasure: they are simply in our DNA as Michiganders,” said Senator Peters. “It’s critical we do everything in our power to protect and preserve the Great Lakes for future generations – and that’s always been my focus. I’m deeply honored to have earned this distinction and am thankful to have excellent partners like the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force that work tirelessly to improve the lives of Michiganders.” 

About Great Lakes Maritime Task Force 

The Great Lakes Maritime Task Force, with 74 members, is the largest coalition to speak for the Great Lakes Navigation System.  Advocating for domestic and international shipping, its members represent labor and management from U.S.-flag vessel operators, shipboard and longshore unions, port authorities, cargo shippers, terminal operators, shipyards, and other Great Lakes interests. The Great Lakes commercial maritime industry supports more than 147,000 American jobs in eight Great Lakes states and generates more than $25 billion in economic activity. 

Press Release

Posted on September 23, 2021

House Transportation Committee Funds Key Great Lakes Projects

CLEVELAND, OHIO (September 15, 2021) – The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Tuesday approved $1 billion for U.S. Coast Guard shore side infrastructure nationwide and $350 million for a heavy Great Lakes icebreaker as part of its budget reconciliation bill, an action that the Great Lake Maritime Task Force (GLMTF) called “great news for the Great Lakes.”

The GLMTF described the heavy Great Lakes icebreaker as desperately needed and expects that a portion of the infrastructure funds will go to good use replacing and repairing crumbling Great Lakes search and rescue stations and other USCG facilities that are used to protect Great Lakes ports and waterways.

The GLMTF views a new heavy Great Lakes icebreaker as a step in the right direction for correcting years of economic devastation when commercial vessels have been trapped in ice for days and unable to deliver critical cargoes vital to the nation’s economic security.  The icebreaker is also the most valuable tool to combating ice jam flooding on rivers in the Great Lakes region.  Unfortunately, too late for residents in the Detroit area who suffered catastrophic damage in February 2021 while the USCG’s only heavy Great Lakes icebreaker was in a maintenance period and unable to respond.

“We are very pleased with this large step toward significant progress in maintaining navigable commercial shipping lanes on the Lakes for a greater part of each year,” said Great Lakes Maritime Task Force President John Clemons, who serves as American Maritime Officers National Vice President, Great Lakes. “A new and needed heavy icebreaker is crucial to U.S. commerce and will extend the ability of U.S.-flagged lakers to deliver the materials that fuel American manufacturing. AMO and American Maritime Officers Service will continue working together with members of Congress and our labor and industry partners on the task force to see this through to completion.”

“The Masters, Mates & Pilots strongly supports and greatly appreciates the decision by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to provide funding for a new heavy Great Lakes icebreaker.  A new multi-mission icebreaker is an extremely important asset that is vitally needed on the Great Lakes to help keep the flow of commerce moving and maritime workers employed,” Tom Bell, Vice President, United Inland Group – Great Lakes, International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots.

“The SIU is very pleased to see funding for Great Lakes icebreaking being included in the package that was marked up today.  This is a critical safety issue for our members on the Great Lakes, and we are looking forward to seeing this funding being enacted into law,” Michael Sacco, President, Seafarers International Union.

“The Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association applauds the work on behalf of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to provide much needed funding to construct a Great Lakes Icebreaker. Securing this funding is a critically important step toward facilitating the long-term commerce and growth of the Great Lakes region, as well as new economic opportunities that will help advance the domestic maritime industry,” Adam Vokac, President, Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association.

“These appropriations are extremely important to the Great Lakes and the national economy.  Three hundred fifty million dollars for a heavy Great Lakes icebreaker will pay for itself in a few years as it safely moves American shipping, keeps Great Lakes ports and facilities open for business, protects U.S. sailors and shoreline communities, and ensures jobs for hundreds of thousands of shoreside workers,” Jim Weakley, Vice President of GLMTF and President of the Lake Carriers’ Association.

“This is a signal that the Great Lakes are important to Congress and the nation.  Another heavy Great Lakes icebreaker is needed now to keep Wisconsin’s waterways reliable as the most efficient means of moving critical raw materials to manufacturing facilities around the Great Lakes,” Mark Ruge, President of Wisconsin’s Domestic Maritime Coalition.

“Great Lakes ports commend the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for including critical funds for a new heavy Great Lakes icebreaker in its reconciliation package.  The new vessel will help to ensure that key waterways remain open during winter months.  This translates into a more reliable navigation system, with more commerce moving through our ports and more jobs in our communities,” Steve Fisher, Executive Director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association.

“Port Milwaukee strongly supports federal funding for a new Great Lakes icebreaker,” said Adam Tindall-Schlicht, President of the Wisconsin Commercial Ports Association and Director of Port Milwaukee. “Wisconsin’s ports serve customers every day throughout the year, and industries depend on the resiliency and reliability of maritime infrastructure, particularly during the winter months. A second icebreaker will enhance the U.S. Coast Guard’s operations and prove invaluable for both the regional economy and continued safety on the Great Lakes.”

“Modern, dependable Great Lakes icebreaking assets are essential to maintaining the safe and efficient flow of the cargoes critical to everyday life in North America. For too long, the necessity and importance of these assets has been overlooked, ignored, or marginalized, at a cost not only to people and commerce on the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway, but also to national security. Fortification of North America’s supply chain is overdue, and a new Great Lakes icebreaker is an important component in that effort,” Deb DeLuca, Executive Director, Duluth Seaway Port Authority.

“The Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority is supportive of the initiative for a new Great Lakes Icebreaker,” said Kyle Burleson, Director of Port Operations for the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority.  “The Port of Detroit is an active port throughout the year, but of course, the winter months provide a great deal of uncertainty as to the conditions of ice on the Great Lakes.  As we seek to pursue new opportunities and grow our existing support for the manufacturing, power generation, and road building industries, the certainty provided by an additional icebreaker in ensuring the waterways remain open for commerce will aid the Port’s ability in attracting new business and provide assurances for port customers that their cargo will arrive on time and on budget.”

Additionally, the legislation includes funding for U.S. Maritime Administration grants to small shipyards and port infrastructure projects, which should also benefit the Great Lakes region.

GLMTF is the largest coalition speaking for the Great Lakes shipping community, drawing its membership from both labor and management representing U.S.-flag vessel operators, shipboard and longshore unions, port authorities, cargo shippers, terminal operators, shipyards, and other Great Lakes interests.