The Obama Administration's new Arctic strategy would make the region a top priority despite rumors that the Coast Guard is withdrawing due to a lack of maritime commercial traffic.
It's a rumor that Coast Guard officials deny, although they admit cutbacks are coming.
“It’s important for the public to understand that the Coast Guard is committed to having a presence in the Arctic,” said Veronica Colbath, Coast Guard Public Affairs Officer. “We are working under current budget constraints, but we know that the region is extremely important.”
Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell says despite the cutbacks, the Coast Guard will continue to serve the region.
“There are no bones about it,” Treadwell said. “There is a pullback, but I don’t think there is a pullback in commitment, there is a pullback in resources.”
According to Treadwell, federal sequestration and Shell Oil's suspension of its 2013 Arctic drilling operations have forced the Coast Guard to scale back its Arctic operations and look to other areas.
“Because Shell won’t be doing its operations, I think the focus and concern Alaskans should have is what’s going through the Bering Strait,” Treadwell said. “Last year, we had 46 vessels going through the Bering Strait and most of them were carrying energy.”
Coast Guard officials say in order to deal with budget cuts from sequestration, they are looking at leveraging infrastructure that's already in place in a budget-constrained environment. The Coast Guard will take a step back and look at where it can be most effective moving forward with Operation Arctic Shield this summer.
“Arctic Shield is about learning lessons and operating in the region,” said Colbath. “We think we can be effective and that’s why we’re possibly looking at having a forward operating location in Kotzebue.”
Coast Guard officials hope to have their summer plans solidified by the end of May.
Channel 2's Chris Klint, Josh Staab, and Jessica Ridgway contributed to this story.
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