News by Professionals 4 Professionals


Funding frozen for Coast Guard ship to open Mich. lanes

Show Thumbnails Show Captions

Sault Ste. Marie Spring has officially arrived in Michigan, at least on the calendar. To the U.S. Coast Guard, it s still winter and Operation Taconite is underway.

Its mission is to break up the ice fields of the upper Great Lakes, where the duty of opening shipping lanes for vessels falls to the Coast Guard and its only heavy icebreaker, the USCGC Mackinaw.

This year has not been as challenging as the past couple of years; there is less ice, said Commander Vasilios Tasikas of the USCGC Mackinaw. Whitefish Bay has the most ice, and we will escort the first vessels through this weekend. In an average year, the Coast Guard breaks ice for 120 days, helping half a billion dollars in commodities maneuver through the Great Lakes.

It s very gratifying to do what we do, Tasikas said. But concerns over keeping the state s commodities moving following recent harsh winters have renewed interest in having a second heavy icebreaker join forces with the Mackinaw to clear the frigid waterways.

Two years ago, then President Barack Obama signed into law the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015, appropriating $17.5 billion for Coast Guard activities. It provides funds for the design and construction of an icebreaker that is capable of buoy tending and to enhance icebreaking on the Great Lakes. But funding for it is on hold as the new Trump administration pours over financial appropriations for all facets of government. U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, a member of the Commerce Committee s Subcommittee of Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, is pushing, along with U.S. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, for another heavy icebreaker.

It is essential that Congress provides the men and women of the Coast Guard with the resources they need to keep open shipping lanes in the Great Lakes, wrote Peters and Stabenow in a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Coast Guard.

Mathew Paxton, president of the Shipbuilders Council of America, spoke to the House subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation in 2016, stating it would take years to build a new polar icebreaker but less time to complete a new Great Lakes icebreaker. It took 28 months to complete the construction of the Mackinaw in 2005 in Marinette, Wisconsin. The U.S. Coast Guard operates nine icebreaking-capable cutters on the Great Lakes, including heavy icebreaker USCGC Mackinaw. A home port for a new heavy icebreaker could be a financial boon to the city that is selected. Mackinaw City, Charlevoix and several other ports have expressed interest in becoming that port.

Cheboygan County District One commissioner Chris Brown of Cheboygan, where the Mackinaw is stationed, said the icebreaker would have at least a $7 million to $9 million impact on the chosen community

The ship has the potential of up to 40 families living wherever the new vessel is stationed, Brown said.

Low risk of slowdowns

Whitefish Bay, which is on the eastern end of the southern shore of Lake Superior, has eight inches of ice with some windrows up to 28 inches this season. According to Scott Sutherland, meteorologist for the Weather Network, there is near-record low ice cover on the Great Lakes this season, which is partly caused by the warmest water temperatures in 16 years. Ice coverage has averaged around 12 percent of the Great Lakes, with the North Channel on Lake Huron, Whitefish Bay on Lake Superior and Green Bay on Lake Michigan all holding the most ice.

The conditions are a dramatic change from only a few years ago. The heavy ice of the winters of 2013-15 was legendary, with freighters stuck for days in Lake Superior and Lake Huron, waiting for escort through the ice. The heavy ice winter of 2013-14, when losses were estimated at nearly 7 million tons, caused two steel mills and coal power plants to reduce production at an estimated loss of nearly 4,000 jobs and $700 million in revenue. The winter of 2014-15 saw the Great Lakes almost entirely covered in thick ice, causing shipping losses of 3.2 million tons, according to the offices of Peters and Stabenow, costing $355 million in lost revenue and nearly 2,000 jobs.

But the shipping season this year should not have any slowdowns. Five Coast Guard vessels the Biscayne Bay, Katmai Bay, Morro Bay, Mobile Bay and the 240-foot USCGC Mackinaw were preparing the St. Mary s River and the Soo Locks this past week by cutting lanes through the ice fields for the shipping season, which officially began at midnight Friday. The Mackinaw was the first vessel through the Poe Lock on March 15. The heavy cutter freed the ice-bound lock and traveled north toward Whitefish Bay and Lake Superior, opening a channel. Cold nights will refreeze the passage, which will be kept open by the ship as needed.

The locks close in early January each year for winter maintenance and open for the shipping season in late March as steel factories along the shores of the lower lakes need fresh supplies of ore for production. Coal-fired electric facilities also need to replenish their supplies of coal.

Ore, coal, fuel and grain will be some of the cargo being carried to distant ports, said Lt. j.g. Chantal Early of the USCG Mackinaw.

Inside the Mackinaw

The history of using heavy icebreakers on the Great Lakes dates back to an acquisition program in 1936. The mission continues today, with the addition of tending buoys for safe navigation, search-and-rescue operations and law enforcement. The original Mackinaw, commissioned in 1944, was 290 feet in length with a beam of more than 74 feet. It was built during WWII to keep shipping lanes on the Great Lakes open so iron ore and copper from the Upper Peninsula could be delivered to the steel mills along the lower Great Lakes, providing raw material to produce tanks, airplanes, jeeps and other critical machinery to the war effort. Replacing the aging icebreaker after its 62 years of service was another Mackinaw in 2006. Displacing 3,500 tons, the icebreaker has worked the Great Lakes for 10 seasons.

I was pleased they kept the Mackinaw name on this new ship, Tasikas said. The legacy continues.

Carrying a crew of nine officers, five chief petty officers and 41 crew, the ship is the only one in the Coast Guard fleet with Azipods, a brand of electric thrusters in two pods with 10-foot propellers that can be turned 360 degrees, allowing them to direct their thrust in any direction. The pods remove the need for a rudder and the traditional wheel in the pilot house. Two control paddles can operate independently by the pilot. The ship has four stations with similar controls, allowing the pilot to maneuver the vessel from several locations onboard, giving maximum visual control.

The ship can spin on a dime, Tasikas said. We can be very creative in how we maneuver the ship. Coupled with a 550 horsepower bow thruster, the ship is exceptionally maneuverable. Maximum speed is 15 knots, and the ship can break through 32 inches of fresh water ice and up to 10 feet of refrozen brash ice or ridge ice.

Tasikas said he has enjoyed his three years on the Great Lakes. He heads to the classrooms at the Marine Corps War College in Virginia this summer.

I feel very fortunate to be part of this Great Lakes crew, he said. It s been a real joy.

John L. Russell is a photojournalist and writer from Traverse City.

Read or Share this story:


  1. ^

Delaware gang member found guilty in 2 of 3 killings

Delaware Gang Member Found Guilty In 2 Of 3 Killings


CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated the number of murders John Brisco was convicted of.

A 19-year-old man, branded one of Wilmington’s “most dangerous individuals,” has been found guilty in two of the three killings in which he was charged. A jury, which deliberated for 2 days, on Friday found John Brisco guilty of killing 18-year-old William Rollins Jr. and 53-year-old Ioannis Kostikidis, but not guilty of the murder of 20-year-old Devon Lindsey. In Kostikidis’ killing, the jury could determine intentional killing or reckless killing during the commission of a felony. The jury found Brisco not guilty of intentional killing, but guilty of reckless killing during the commission of a felony. Brisco also was found guilty of gang participation, several weapons, conspiracy and attempted robbery charges.

Superior Court Judge William C. Carpenter Jr. scheduled the sentencing for June. Brisco, who went by the name “Bin Laden,” faces life in prison.

“I’m ecstatic in regards to the verdict that came back,” said Shareece White, Rollins’ mother. “With this conviction, we got him off the streets and saved quite a few other lives.”

White wanted other mothers who have lost children to gun violence to know that this is just the beginning.

“If we keep fighting we can get more,” she said. “There’s other gangs out there, other murders out there that haven’t been solved. They just have to stand strong and have faith.”

STORY: Four guilty pleas in two Wilmington gang cases[1]

STORY: 13 gang members face 91 charges, including murder[2]

Rollins was shot dead on Jan. 24, 2015, near West 21st and Washington streets one week after Lindsey was killed. Brisco also shot and killed Ioannis Kostikidis, a security guard at the American Beauty School, during a robbery attempt at Sixth and Tatnall streets on Feb. 6, 2013.

Brisco was one of 13 defendants indicted in the Touch Money Gang case in 2015. He is the only defendant who has proceeded to trial, after rejecting a plea deal that would have put him in prison for a minimum of 41 years. When the indictment was first announced, Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn called it the largest in memory in terms of the number of homicides and shootings captured in the charges.

“This defendant was one of the most dangerous individuals in the city of Wilmington, and Delaware [Department of Justice] and law enforcement have spent years assembling the complex case against him and other TMG members,” Denn said in a statement. “I especially thank and commend Deputy Attorneys General John Downs, Dan McBride and Periann Doko and paralegal Jaime Prater, along with Sgt. Randy Nowell, Det. Tom Curley and Det. Marty Lenhardt of Wilmington Police, on the result of this trial. I also thank the many other DOJ deputies and staff, Wilmington Police and fellow law enforcement agencies who contributed to this important case.”

Contact Esteban Parra at (302) 324-2299, [email protected] or Twitter @eparra3.

Read or Share this story:


  1. ^ Four guilty pleas in two Wilmington gang cases (
  2. ^ 13 gang members face 91 charges, including murder (

Four marijuana bills sent to governor, more may follow

Four Marijuana Bills Sent To Governor, More May Follow

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson(Photo: File)

State lawmakers sent four medical marijuana-related bills to Gov. Asa Hutchinson last week, and several other bills require legislative cleanup before they can join the others on the governor s desk, a review of legislative records indicate. House Bill 1451, which was sent to the governor s desk earlier this month, was signed into law as Act 479 of the 91st General Assembly on Thursday. That bill prohibits members of the Arkansas National Guard or U.S. military from participating in the state s medical marijuana program as either a patient or a registered caregiver. All four of the bills forward to the governor s office originated in the House of the Representatives and received Senate approval last week.

On Tuesday, March 14, senators approved House Bill 1049, which would allow the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission, the Department of Health or the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division to decide which felonies would exclude someone from owning or working in a marijuana facility. All three Twin Lakes Area senators Scott Flippo of Bull Shoals, Missy Irvin of Mountain View and Linda Collins-Smith of Pocahontas voted in favor of the bill, which passed on a 27-4 vote with three senators not voting. The Senate approved three more marijuana-related bills on Thursday, sending each one to Gov. Hutchinson.

House Bill 1436 would require that state-issued licenses operate marijuana facilities expire on June 30 and must be renewed before July 1. That bill was approved 30-0 with Flippo and Irvin each voting in favor of the bill, while Collins-Smith was one of five legislators opting to not vote. House Bill 1460, which would allow employers to prohibit medical marijuana use among workers in security sensitive positions, was approved 26-3 with Flippo and Irvin each voting in favor of the bill. Collins-Smith was one of four senators to not vote, and one legislator voted present. House Bill 1584 would allow the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission to issue temporary dispensary and cultivation facility licenses in the event the original licensee no longer controls day-to-day operations of the facility. That bill was approved 30-3, with Flippo and Irvin voting in its favor while Collins-Smith voted against it.

Three House bills received approval from the upper chamber last week, but due to Senate amendments they have been returned to the House for a second vote. The Senate approved House Bill 1057, which calls for the State Police and the FBI to conduct criminal background checks on registered caregivers and potential owners of any marijuana business. That bill was approved 32-0, with two senators not voting and one voting present. Flippo, Irvin and Collins-Smith each voted in favor of HB1057. That bill was amended earlier this month in the Senate to add Irvin as a co-sponsor, and will be forwarded to the governor once the House approves that amendment.

House Bill 1369, which would require that tax revenue generated from marijuana first reimburse the state for operation and administrative expenses, was approved 32-0 with all three Twin Lakes Area Senators voting in its favor. An amendment filed by Irvin, the bill s co-sponsor, requires the Legislature to re-examine the allocation of medical marijuana proceeds in 2019 and consider redirecting a portion of that revenue to workforce education. HB1369 has been re-referred to the House to for legislators to approve that amendment before the bill can be forwarded to the governor.

House Bill 1519 would place the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission inside the Department of Finance and Administration. It was approved 29-3 by the Senate with Flippo and Irvin each voting in favor of the bill. Collins-Smith was one of two legislators who did not vote, and another voted present. While in the Senate, HB1519 was amended to add Irvin as a co-sponsor, so the bill must return to the House for another vote before advancing to the governor s office. Any bill modifying the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers.

Read or Share this story:

1 2 3 11