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Admiral: Alaska CG units will weather budget woes

Federal spending cutbacks known as sequestration will have less of an impact on the Coast Guard in Alaska than they will elsewhere in the country.

That’s the word from Rear Admiral Thomas Ostebo, in charge of the Coast Guard’s District 17, which encompasses all of Alaska.

Ostebo made the remarks at an award ceremony Friday at Air Station Sitka. He says the Coast Guard is in high demand as activity picks up in Alaska, especially with offshore oil development.

“All of that is Coast Guard activity,”Ostebo said. “All of that is more marine trade, more marine environmental responsibility for the Coast Guard. 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. The point of it is Alaska’s a great place for the Coast Guard.”

Ostebo said he met with Lt. Gov. Treadwell on Thursday, and that the state’s No. 2 executive promised to help “from the state perspective to sing the praises of the Coast Guard and to get more resources up here for us.”

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,” he said. “We’re supposed to have two ice breakers up here. Both the (USCGC Polar) Star and the (USCGC) Healy were going to come up. Whether they show up or not is now of great debate. 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.”

Still, Ostebo says District 17 has paid some bills early, and put itself in a pretty good place to weather budget cuts. He says the core missions of the Coast Guard, from rescues to navigational aid maintenance to vessel safety, will not change.

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