Great Lakes trade in jeopardy unless icebreakers modernized and twin Poe lock built

US and Canadian trade and shipping interests on the Great Lakes could be jeopardized for lack of investment in icebreakers and a second Poe-sized lock, an advocacy group has claimed.

The Great Lakes Maritime Task Force (GLMTF) issued the warning in its annual report released on Wednesday.

In the report the GLMTF cites examples from last year where vessels were hampered or stranded because of worsening icy conditions. It also mentions how the closure of the MacArthur lock – one of the so-called US Soo locks on the St Marys River – caused disruption and delays to cargo trade.

It says more modern icebreakers are essential – and in greater numbers – because the current US Coast Guard (USCG) icebreaker fleet is old (built between 1979 and 1987) and prone to mechanical failures.

Age is also a concern with the Soo locks, which allow ships to travel between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes and the St Lawrence Seaway.

Of those locks the Poe lock is the only one that can handle the large lake freighters used on the upper lakes, making it a primary conduit for iron ore.

Plans to build a second Poe-sized lock were authorized by the US Congress as far back as 1986 and again in 2007. But an unhelpful cost-benefit analysis has seen the plan stall, much to the GLMTF’s frustration.

The GLMTF is the main advocate for shipping interests on the Great Lakes and associated waterways, with a membership embracing vessel operators, port operators, labour unions, cargo shippers and shipyards.

Donal Scully

With 28 years experience writing and editing for newspapers in the UK and Hong Kong, Donal is now based in California from where he covers the Americas for Splash as well as ensuring the site is loaded through the Western Hemisphere timezone.
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