She and her crew have been out in the Chesapeake Bay’s most extreme conditions, and now it’s time for Maryland’s J. Millard Tawes ice breaker boat to head to retirement.
A $9.1 million contract is currently awaiting state approval for a Rhode Island boatbuilder to construct a modern, new buoy tender to break ice on the Bay.
The 100-foot, 167-ton Tawes was commissioned by the Coast Guard in 1942 but has been in service for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) since 1972.
The 78-year-old vessel serves as the primary ice breaker for Crisfield Harbor and Smith Island, also supporting Tangier Island when those islands are cut off from their supply sources by heavy ice. During seasons of heavy ice, the island communities rely on the state’s boat for food, fuel, medicine and emergency transport.
The Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) can also call upon the Tawes to evacuate Smith Island during weather emergencies like hurricanes. When she’s not breaking ice, Tawes can safely carry large weights up to 900 pounds each that secure buoys in the open waters of the lower Bay and Pocomoke and Tangier sounds. She is operated by DNR’s Hydrographic Operations Division.
DNR says the Tawes‘ age makes her difficult to maintain– most major systems, including the main engines– haven’t been made since 1980. When something breaks and parts are needed, they must be custom-built. She has reached the end of her usable life span.
The state sought bids for a design and construction of a new ice breaker/buoy tender vessel, to be paid for with a portion of the Waterway Improvement Fund (raised through the state’s boating excise tax).
Blount Boats, Inc. of Warren, Rhode Island signed up to taking on the task at a cost of $9,134,375. The contract is awaiting approval by the Maryland Board of Public Works (because it is a single piece of equipment that exceeds $200,000). DNR noted it was difficult to find a local contractor to do the job because the buoy tender is too large for a boatyard and too small for a shipyard. Blount Boats has delivered commercial vessels like ferries, Chicago’s architectural tour boats, and Army passenger vessels to be used in the South Pacific.
The icebreaker contract is on Board of Public Works agenda for its May 6 meeting.
–Meg Walburn Viviano