The Aiviq, a private icebreaker the U.S. Coast Guard is considering purchasing for Arctic operations with Juneau as its home port, is seen on March 24, 2012. (Courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard)

The Aiviq, a private icebreaker the U.S. Coast Guard is considering purchasing for Arctic operations with Juneau as its home port, is seen on March 24, 2012. (Courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard)

Opinion: Giving credit where credit is due

It’s been a long time since the Juneau economy has been bolstered by a single significant federal appropriation. It was 25 years ago when Sen. Ted Stevens secured funding for NOAA’s $51 million marine research facility at Lena Point.

That changed last week with the announcement that $125 million in funding for a Juneau-based Coast Guard icebreaker was authorized in a final Congressional budget bill.

Adding to America’s woefully short inventory of icebreakers, it will bring more military and scientific capabilities to America’s presence in the Arctic. Homeporting the ship in Juneau will provide an economic boon to Juneau and Southeast Alaska by adding new residents to the Capital City and delivering hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure spending to the state.

The ship’s complement of 190 crewmembers and support personnel could bring as many as 400 dependents, half of whom might attend our schools.

This announcement couldn’t come at a better time for the Juneau community as the school district has been forced to consolidate schools in the face of a plummeting student population, now projected to decline even further by 1,200 students over the next ten years.

Alaska’s Congressional delegation deserves credit and gratitude for delivering on a promise made years ago.

Our three elected members of Congress each contributed to the overall success of this initiative. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s position as a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee was critical in securing the final funding. Sen. Dan Sullivan’s military and national security background was uniquely instrumental in navigating the process. Rep. Mary Peltola handled efforts in the House, providing coordination with Democratic leadership and the Biden administration.

Much of the heavy lifting, however, was accomplished by Sen. Sullivan whose tenacity overcame political opposition, bureaucratic obstacles, and budgetary roadblocks. He fought fiercely for the funding as he waded through a veritable alphabet soup of agencies and administrators in the OMB, NSC, NOAA, DHS, USN, and USCG. He buttonholed Congressional members, military officials, and budget bureaucrats and never took no for an answer.

As a Senate Armed Services Committee member, Sen. Sullivan has emerged as a leader in strengthening America’s military services particularly in Alaska and the Arctic. He is a frequent “go-to” guest of national news outlets commenting on America’s military capabilities and their importance in protecting America’s national security.

Until recently, Sen. Sullivan was the only commissioned officer in the military reserves serving in the United States Senate. After a 30-year distinguished career in the United States Marine Corps, Sullivan retired at the rank of full colonel.

The battle for icebreaker funding was not easy.

According to a joint delegation press release, “[The icebreaker funding] has been accomplished after four years of advocacy by Senator Sullivan and engagement over the span of two Administrations with senior leaders in the USCG, Department of Homeland Security, National Security Council, Office of Management & Budget, and his colleagues in the House of Representatives and Senate. “

“[Sullivan] provided specific authorization for the acquisition of the vessel and provided expedited procurement authority for the vessel as part of the Don Young Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2022. That bill also authorized the conveyance of 2.4 acres of waterfront property from NOAA to the Coast Guard to facilitate the icebreaker homeporting in Juneau. That transfer was completed on February 7, 2024. Senator Sullivan also put a hold on certain USCG promotions until the Coast Guard produced a long-promised study on the homeporting of an icebreaker in Alaska—which ultimately recommended Juneau as the preferred homeporting location.”

While there is much to celebrate, the process is not yet complete.

Successful negotiations to purchase a private icebreaker, along with funding its complete refit with appropriate systems and hardware remain. It could take up to two years to get the ship transitioned to operational status for limited service with the Coast Guard and another six to seven years before the ship is totally equipped for full service.

In the meantime, the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly and its empowered Docks and Harbors Board, in concert with the private sector, must begin planning and devoting resources to be ready to accommodate the ship and Coast Guard personnel with their families in our community.

• After retiring as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for KeyBank in Alaska, Win Gruening became a regular Opinion Page columnist for the Juneau Empire. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is involved in various local and statewide organizations. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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