Lawmakers and associations from the Great Lakes region are pushing to get more icebreaking ships on the water.
The U.S. Coast Guard's fleet isn't capable of keeping up with the area's harsh winters, they contend.
"There are not occasional problems, there are constant problems," said Glen Nekvasil, vice president of the Lake Carriers Association, which represents 16 companies with 63 ships on the Great Lakes. "The (Coast Guard) crews are doing the best they can, but there is no way to get around the fact that the ships are getting old."
Groups such as Nekvasil's and the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force are asking the government to provide funding to build a twin to the 240-foot Mackinaw. The ship, based in Cheboygan, is the biggest and newest icebreaker on the Great Lakes.
In a news release this week, Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, said she and other Great Lakes members of Congress are pushing for the issue to receive funding as part of a multibillion dollar stimulus bill proposed by President-elect Barack Obama. About $153 million has been requested.
Miller said such funding is important for the more than $1 billion Great Lakes shipping industry.
The companies his group represents incurred $1.5 million in ice damage to ships in March, he said.
"When you don't have the Coast Guard there to keep the shipping lanes open, you can't keep the cargo moving," he said. "We need to upgrade the Great Lakes icebreaking fleet."
The U.S. Coast Guard uses eight icebreaking cutters on the Great Lakes -- including the 225-foot Hollyhock based in Port Huron.
The cutters break ice on the lakes and other waterways including Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair and Detroit rivers.
During the winter months, 20 million tons of cargo -- from salt and grain to stone and coal -- is transported on the Great Lakes, Nekvasil said. That accounts for about 15% of what's transported each year.
"This is one of those shovel-ready projects," Nekvasil said. "The blueprints are there. If they award the contracts, the shipyard can start cutting steel tomorrow."
Lt. David French, external affairs officer with the Coast Guard's Detroit sector in Cleveland, said he knows there are requests from politicians but wouldn't comment on pending legislation. more