U.S. Senator Mark Begich was in town last week on a campaign swing. The Alaska democrat is seeking re-election this year and opened a campaign office on the island. Begich also stopped by KMXT to talk about a handful of topics important to the Kodiak community, including plans for the Coast Guard.
Kodiak is home to the largest Coast Guard base in the country and Begich chairs the U.S. Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard. He said he’s worked hard to make sure funds are going toward new cutters and maintaining old ones.
“Two years ago we passed a bill that actually put some money toward the first stage of planning for a new ice breaker, but we also made sure there was money for the Polar Sea and Polar Star to make sure those ships continue to get renovated and operational. Because the Coast Guard wanted to get rid of those and we thought, those are two strong hulls that should just be renovated – spend $60 million on one and upwards to $80 million or more on the other one, but the end result is these new ice breakers can cost $700 plus million so it’s very cheap to take care of those first two, which we’re in the process of doing. One we’ve already done, one we’re about to start the next planning stage of revamping it.”
While money is put aside for planning and building a new ice breaker, Begich said there certainly isn’t enough and that will be a challenge for future years to make sure that project goes through.
He said the Coast Guard bill also includes three new fast cutters for Southeast Alaska. “Two will be in Ketchikan and one will be in Juneau. Ketchikan is getting a new $20 plus million dock to facilitate it so it stays there. That’s the future – it’s not to keep moving our ships down south all the way to the west coast to be stored during the winter, we want them in the ports that are necessary and readily available for Alaska waters.”
Begich said that is especially important as the Arctic continues to open up.
“Because as the Arctic opens up we need more equipment. So through the two bills, the one bill we passed, now we’re in the second phase of reauthorization again and we’re probably 80 percent done with that bill – we’re in the process of doing that right now. My co-chair or ranking member is Senator Rubio from Florida, a senator who I work with on this bill – we’re adding other elements for more equipment and resources for building out the arctic.”
He said that affects Kodiak directly because if more equipment is being built, it needs to be stationed in places like Kodiak and other ports. He said they will be critical service spots not only for the arctic, but the growing transportation network of the Bering Straits. Begich said that area has a lot more ships moving through it and Kodiak will likely be a long term port for future developments, transportation and Coast Guard needs.
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