Coast Guard expects to cut back on Arctic patrols


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KODIAK (AP) — The Coast Guard expects to scale back on its Arctic patrols this summer because of budget cuts and a lack of commercial traffic.

How much Arctic deployments are decreasing is still being debated as crews from Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak fan out across the state for summer deployments, the Kodiak Daily Mirror (http://is.gd/TvVpcx ) reported this week.

"There's a presence, but they haven't solidified what the plan is going to look like yet," said Lt. Veronica Colbath with Coast Guard District 17, which covers Alaska.

The Coast Guard deployed helicopters, C-130 fixed-wing aircraft and Coast Guard cutters to the Arctic Ocean last summer to provide fulltime search-and-rescue coverage.

The helicopters were based in a Barrow hangar, while a cutter cruised offshore. Other Coast Guard crews tested cold-weather equipment or conducted medical and veterinary visits to villages.

There probably won't be medical missions this summer, and the Coast Guard's base of operations may not be in Barrow. It could be in Kotzebue, which is home to an Alaska National Guard aircraft hangar. Guard spokeswoman Kalei Rupp said the Coast Guard has signed a use agreement for the 13,068 square-foot facility.

"It's our understanding that they're going to have two of their helicopters up there," Rupp said. "What it's for, they're going to use the facility for approximately two weeks in July and two weeks in the August-September timeframe. It's not like a long-term lease like they're going to stage there for the summer."

Colbath said she could not confirm the shift to Kotzebue.

Royal Dutch Shell PLC announced in February that it will not return to drilling operations in the Arctic this summer. ConocoPhillips Co. said in April that it will not proceed with drilling plans in the Chukchi Sea this summer.

The lack of major new drilling operations means fewer ships in the far north. A Coast Guard spokesman in Kodiak said significant marine activity is not anticipated in the Arctic this summer.

Reductions in Arctic deployments mean more aircraft would be available to cover commercial fishing in south-central and southwest Alaska.

The Coast Guard said a Kodiak MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter and aircrew are being deployed to Cordova through the end of September.

 

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