Admiral: Juneau in running to host new Coast Guard cutter

Commanding officer of District 17 also talks Arctic and marijuana with Chamber of Commerce

Rear Admiral Michael McAllister, Commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s 17th District, speaks to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce at the Moose Lodge on Thursday, July 20, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

The head of the U.S. Coast Guard in Alaska said Thursday that Alaska’s capital may host a new cutter.

 

Rear Adm. Michael McAllister told the Juneau Chamber of Commerce that Juneau is in the running to become a host city for a new Fast Response Cutter.

“Juneau is one of the ports we’re looking for for potential Fast Response Cutters,” he told attendees of the weekly Chamber luncheon at the Moose Lodge.

The Coast Guard has previously said it will deploy six Fast Response Cutters, known as FRCs, in Alaska. Two have already arrived here, including the Bailey Barco, which was commissioned in Juneau last month.

The FRCs are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s Island-class cutters. One of those ships, the Liberty, is already homeported in Juneau.

Bruce Abel, a Chamber luncheon attendee, asked McAllister whether Juneau could do anything to increase the odds that a new ship might be stationed here.

“Juneau is already in the mix of those (places) being considered,” McAllister said.

He added that he isn’t sure Juneau needs to do anything to be considered, and that the Coast Guard is looking at a variety of factors as it considers home ports.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to a number of factors. Cost is certainly one of them, cost to produce pier facilities and shoreside facilities,” he said.

An FRC has 19 shoreside personnel for support, and if the Coast Guard can station two of them in the same place, that makes shoreside work more efficient, he said.

He added that the Coast Guard will also consider housing availability, childcare costs and medical care costs.

Arctic cruisers

McAllister’s presentation to the Chamber Thursday included an update on Arctic activity as observed by the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard buoy tender Maple, homeported in Sitka, is in Nome, en route to a trip through the Northwest Passage. The Maple, which is not an icebreaker (but does have an ice-strengthened hull), is expected to be escorted by a Canadian icebreaker during its voyage.

One of the key questions for the Coast Guard, McAllister said, is whether the agency can ensure safety for civilian ships in the Arctic.

The cruise ship Crystal Serenity, which carries 1,600 passengers and crew, is scheduled to sail from Anchorage to New York City through the Northwest Passage between Aug. 15 and Sept. 16. The ship took a similar trip last summer.

“The question is: Will this continue in the future? What other cruise lines will be able to do this in the future?” he said to the Chamber crowd. “We’re going to find out next summer, because we think there’s going to be a new entrant into this particular market.”

Marijuana missions

City and Borough of Juneau Assembly member Jerry Nankervis asked McAllister whether the Coast Guard is looking for marijuana at sea in Alaska waters.

“It’s against federal law,” McAllister responded, but “this is not the type of environment where we’re going out and hunting for marijuana in a state where it’s legal to be used.”

A Coast Guard boarding crew “might hand you a ticket or summons” if it finds marijuana on your boat, but District 17 personnel “don’t go out searching for that type of thing.”

“It’s not a priority of mine to go out and hunt that down,” McAllister said.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


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