Alaska will be getting eight additional Coast Guard boats after one of the state’s senators threatened to hold up the nomination of the designated incoming commandant.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) indicated Wednesday that he would still hold Vice Adm. Karl Schultz’s nomination until he worked through additional issues with the USCG.
In a November letter to Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft, the state’s congressional delegation — Sullivan, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) and Rep. Don Young (R) — wrote that they were “deeply concerned” about how cutters were distributed in Alaska and the impact “on operational response time to national security threats, fisheries enforcement, and search and rescue missions.”
“The tyranny of distance is the bane of any search and rescue case; a matter of hours can mean the difference between life and death,” they wrote.
On Wednesday, Sullivan released a letter he and the other lawmakers received from Zukunft — minutes before the deadline at which Sullivan had threatened to pull Schultz’s nomination from the agenda — announcing the future homeporting of six Fast Response Cutters (FRC) in Alaska. There will be two in Kodiak, one in Seward, one in Sitka and two in Ketchikan, along with two additional patrol boats in Petersburg and Juneau. The senator said the Coast Guard noted no assets will be decommissioned prior to the boats’ arrival and recapitalizing will begin in 2023.
“The Coast Guard is undergoing a major recapitalization of its fleet and I’ve consistently worked to ensure this means more Coast Guard ships, aircraft, and personnel for communities across our state,” Sullivan, chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, said in a statement Wednesday.
“The effort to stop a potential drawdown of Alaska-based Coast Guard assets led to numerous and sometimes tense discussions,” he said. “In the end, persistence and tireless advocacy – tied to a well-timed confirmation hearing of the next U.S. Coast Guard Commandant – led to this announcement. I’m pleased to see the Coast Guard has heard our message loud and clear and followed a 2-1-1-2 homeporting model for the FRCs and will deploy two additional patrol boats into Alaska, a decision which ensures larger mission area coverage.”
“I’m proud to have worked with many mayors in coastal communities to ensure the Coast Guard made the appropriate investments to increase geographic coverage and ensure we can more effectively monitor our waterways and coastlines,” Sullivan continued. “This announcement gives many of our Southeast communities the long-term certainty they’ve been asking for and brings significant investments – in infrastructure and local housing – to our coastal communities. And frankly, we’re not done pushing the Coast Guard during their recapitalization process. In fact, we’re just beginning.”
The Coast Guard received $340 million in funding in the FY18 budget for an additional six FRCs to succeed Island Class patrol boats. Young said Congress ensured the boats “were prioritized and properly funded to better serve and protect our needs” as “upgrading the Coast Guard’s cutter fleet to the FRCs allows the Coast Guard to keep Alaskans safe while also monitoring activity in our waters and helping our fisheries.”
Young also noted that the Alaska delegation worked to secure $51.5 million to help support new USCG assets in the state as far as housing and shoreline infrastructure.
“The Coast Guard values its relationship with each Alaskan community and I appreciate your support as we continue to serve the citizens and maritime community of Alaska,” Zukunft wrote to the lawmakers. “I ask for your continued support as we work with the Administration and Congress to request funding, and for the support of city officials as we mutually prepare for the arrival of the patrol boats.”
Zukunft noted that the “force laydown equates to 150 percent of the capacity provided by the Island Class patrol boats.”
Murkowski, who sits on the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, said that “the importance of the Coast Guard to Alaska and our entire nation cannot be understated.”
“It is critical for us to provide these important upgrades to our aging current fleet, allowing the Coast Guard to better serve Alaska and protect our arctic borders,” Murkowski said. “It is imperative that we have the most capable assets available and that we have them strategically located. Where we place our assets in order for them to be responsive is crucial not only from a national security perspective, but for fisheries enforcement and search and rescue missions as well.”
In his confirmation hearing last week, Schultz told Sullivan that he supports the 2-1-1-2 homeporting model for the Fast Response Cutter in Alaska.
“I’m concerned about the Coast Guard’s ability to meet the needs of southeast Alaskans, especially in the near shore and inside passage areas where, you know, there’s an enormous amount of cruise ship traffic,” Sullivan told the vice admiral.
“Senator, you have my commitment,” Schultz replied. “We talked, potentially, about some 87-foot coastal patrol boats to possibly fill some of those localities that you’re keenly, and others members of the Alaska delegation, are interested in.”