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Begich legislation would bolster ice-breakers, Coast Guard

Alaska Dispatch

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich on Tuesday introduced legislation to address the nation's shortage of ice-breakers by requiring the Coast Guard to operate at least two heavy-duty icebreakers and boosting the Coast Guard presence in Alaska.

At the moment, according to the Seattle Times, the nation's two heavy-duty U.S. icebreakers sit sidelined in Seattle, home of the Coast Guard's three-ship icebreaker fleet. The Polar Sea and its twin, the Polar Star, are 1970s-era cutters that have been repeatedly repaired to keep going past their original life span.

The only working icebreaker is the 12-year-old Healy, which boasts elaborate scientific labs but can only negotiate thinner ice.

"With this new authorization bill, we renew our nation’s commitment to the Coast Guard and make sure they have the cutters, aircraft, small boats and shore facilities to perform their varied and necessary missions,” said Begich, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard Authorization Act would cover fiscal years 2012 and 2013.

The bill also would require the Coast Guard to:

-- Study establishing a deep-water seaport in the Arctic;

-- Determine what improvements are needed to make the harbor on St. George Island fully operational.

-- Build or lease a hangar or berthing facility in the Aleutians.

The proposed legislation sets the U.S. Coast Guard’s funding levels at $8.7 billion and establishes an active duty personnel level of 47,000.