SEATTLE — The U.S. Coast Guard is proposing a renovation and expansion of its Seattle waterfront base that during the next decade will be home to three new icebreakers, and probably other vessels.
The Coast Guard’s aging Seattle operations hub supports Pacific Northwest and polar missions. The Seattle Times reports the Coast Guard will have a higher profile role in the coming years as the U.S. ramps up its presence in an Arctic region rapidly changing as the climate warms.
One option for the base’s makeover would result in more than tripling the Coast Guard’s acreage along the waterfront, according to a document published last week in the Federal Register. One of three under consideration, it involves the “acquisition” of up to 54.1 acres, mainly at Terminal 46, which is adjacent to the Coast Guard’s current waterfront base.
Congress has passed a bill authorizing the addition of Coast Guard Polar Security Cutters for use as icebreakers.
Port officials say they want to support the Coast Guard efforts to improve and grow the Seattle base, but are wary that a federal takeover of most of Terminal 46 would end an ongoing effort to expand bulk cargo operations there.
“I want to know if we can provide this national service without impacting to an unreasonable degree our well-established uses of the waterfront,” said Fred Felleman, a Port of Seattle commissioner.
Lt. Russ Tippets, a Coast Guard spokesperson, said that “we understand the concerns associated with such a major endeavor. We are committed to working with stakeholders, and the public through the environmental planning process to hear and address those concerns.”
He said that the Coast Guard is looking for the most cost-effective options for accommodating a modernized icebreaker fleet, and have not made any decisions on whether that would be a purchase of port land, or some sort of long-term lease.
The planning process for the base improvements kicked off last week with a notice in the Federal Register, starting a 45-day public comment period on what issues should be considered in development of an environmental-impact statement. By fall of next year, that statement is expected to be completed.