House Passes National Defense Authorization Act with Critical Great Lakes Provisions

September 24, 2021
September 24, 2021 LCA

CLEVELAND, OHIO (September 24, 2021) – The U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Thursday, September 23rd, and included provisions which strengthen U.S. national economic security and protects shoreline communities in the Great Lakes region.  The NDAA passed the House by a landslide vote of 316 to 113.

A vital component of the Fiscal Year 2022 NDAA was the inclusion of the “Great Lakes Winter Shipping Act” which would provide the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) with expanded icebreaking capabilities to keep vital shipping lanes on the Great Lakes open when ice endangers sailors and the North American supply chain.  The Act also provides transparency to the public on how well the USCG performs their mandatory icebreaking mission on the Great Lakes.  Previously, the USCG has claimed 95 percent success keeping waterways open during winter months on the Great Lakes.  Unfortunately, the USCG’s performance measures do not account for the Great Lakes as a system and only documented massive impacts to four small sections of Great Lakes connecting waters, none of which are on Lake Superior.

“Vessels that have been stuck for days, sailors running out of food and vessels damaged by ice floes, were not reported to Congress by the USCG.  Those vessels had to be stuck in one of four specific spots from more than 24-hours with another vessel stuck behind them to count under the USCG metrics.  Vessels stuck in the harbors, open lakes or bays of the Great Lakes were never acknowledged and the economic impacts have been devasting, over $2 billion and 10,000 jobs lost during a five-year period,” lamented Jim Weakly, President of the Lake Carriers’ Association.  “Thanks to Representative Mike Gallagher and other Great Lakes legislators who advanced this critical law, we may achieve transparency regarding the impacts of inadequate USCG icebreaking on the Great Lakes.”

Another key piece included in the NDAA was a provision requiring the Department of the Army to investigate the need for icebreaking on the St Clair River in Michigan.  Specifically, and purposely placed in the bill because of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers responsibility to respond to flooding caused by annual winter ice jams.  The Corps relies on USCG icebreakers to relieve the ice jams which prevent Great Lakes rivers from overflowing and devasting shoreline communities.  In February 2021, the USCG’s only heavy Great Lakes icebreaker was undergoing maintenance and unable to respond to catastrophic flooding north of Detroit, Michigan on the St Clair River.

“Flooding caused by ice buildup wreaks havoc on the Great Lakes region each winter. That’s why I introduced an amendment to the NDAA that would pave the way for a new ice cutter on the Great Lakes, specifically in my district on the St. Clair River,” said Rep. Lisa McClain. “I’m thrilled the amendment was adopted and included in this legislation to help alleviate flooding in the region.”

Finally, Rep. Jack Bergman recognized the importance of the Great Lakes maritime infrastructure, with bill language, “The committee notes that a failure at the Soo Locks would have a potentially significant impact on national security as a key waypoint in the U.S. iron mining-integrated steel production-manufacturing supply chain. Without redundancy, any unexpected outage at the Soo Locks would likely cripple steel production that is used for national defense priorities. Therefore, the committee supports a second 1,200-foot lock and believes that such a lock is necessary to maintain redundancy and resiliency at the Soo Locks and further protects our national defense priorities.”

About Lake Carriers’ Association

Since 1880, Lake Carriers’ has represented the U.S.-flag Great Lakes fleet, which today can move more than 90 million tons of cargos annually that are the foundation of American industry, infrastructure, and energy: iron ore, stone, coal, cement, and other dry bulk materials such as grain, salt, and sand.

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