Federal spending cuts known as sequestration will have less of an impact on the Coast Guard in Alaska than elsewhere in the country. That’s the word from Rear Admiral Thomas Ostebo, who is in charge of the Coast Guard’s District 17, which encompasses the entire state.
Ostebo says the Coast Guard is in high demand as activity picks up in Alaska, especially with offshore oil development.
“It’s going to require the Coast Guard and Coast Guard aviation assets to have a presence up on the North Slope, and Kodiak is making preparations to be up there, in less capacity than we were last year, but more than we have been traditionally,” Ostebo said at an awards ceremony Friday at Air Station Sitka.
Ostebo says that’s the good news. The bad news is that sequestration has created “uncertainty” in the budget. Tuition assistance for Coast Guard personnel is gone. Improvements for Coast Guard housing in Sitka are on hold. A request to add a fourth helicopter in Sitka will have to wait, too. And, Ostebo says, there are other uncertainties.
“We’ve got some icebreaker issues. We’re supposed to have two ice breakers up here. Both the Polar Star and the Healy were going to come up. Whether they show up or not is now of great debate,” Ostebo said. “Just fueling those ships is millions of dollars. You’ve got 1.5 million gallons capable on the Polar Star. At $4 a gallon, it’s pretty expensive to fill it up. So we’re trying to figure out how best to use that, or whether we will use it at all in the Arctic.”
Ostebo says District 17 paid some bills early and put itself in a pretty good place to whether budget cuts. He says the core missions of the Coast Guard, from rescues to navigational aid maintenance to vessel safety, will not change.