Duluth News Tribune

By Teri Cadeau

As the crew of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Alder prepares for the ship's final journey under the Aerial Lift Bridge this Wednesday, they received a visit from Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

The senator was in the Northland to celebrate Independence Day and received a tour of the ship Monday, thanking crewmembers for their service to the area.

"For nearly 17 years the Alder has served this community and served our Great Lakes," Klobuchar said. "Each year 35 million tons of cargo and more than 600 vessels pass through the port of Duluth. In the winter, that could not happen as early as it does in March on the lake if it wasn’t for this icebreaker. They’re incredibly valuable for our region."

The Alder arrived in the Twin Ports in October 2004, replacing the Sundew, which was decommissioned in 2004. Another 225-foot buoy tender, the USCG Spar, will replace the Alder in early spring 2022. The Alder will make its final trip through the Great Lakes to Baltimore, Maryland, for a year of maintenance before it is transferred to San Francisco, its new homeport.

The Spar was named for the members of the Coast Guard Women's Reserve, who were known back in World War II as SPARs. The SPARs were created in 1942 to allow more men to serve overseas while women tended to Coast Guard duties on the home front.

"I thought that was a great name because it sounded like an icebreaker," Klobuchar said. "But the commanding officer told me where the name came from. They were like the WASPs in the Air Force. And I thought that was pretty fitting given that we have a woman mayor in Duluth and two women senators."

On the tour, Klobuchar spoke with crewmembers and asked questions about their work.

"When you get up on the bridge, you can see there's some new computer technology that was only installed in the last decade or so," she said. "And that's something we want to continue to do, to update our icebreakers so we continue to keep moving forward. We can't be the country that makes stuff and invents things and exports them to the world if we don't have icebreakers. You can't do that with a bunch of ice blocking the way."

Newly installed Lt. Cmdr. Joel Wright said he was looking forward to the journey to Baltimore and to bringing the Spar back this spring.

"We're looking forward to bringing the Spar back on time," Wright said. "She'll be the newest member of the Great Lakes fleet, servicing Lake Superior and the Great Lakes in her new station.

The Spar was launched in August 2000 and has been responsible for tending aids to navigation in the waterways near Kodiak, Alaska.