ASTORIA — Members of Oregon’s congressional delegation are calling on the U.S. Coast Guard to double the number of new fast response cutters at North Tongue Point.
The decision is one with regional economic importance, since the Coast Guard’s current inclinations would result in fewer personnel being based in the Lower Columbia than currently.
The Coast Guard chose Astoria over Newport for two of the 154-foot cutters, meant to replace the 1980s-era patrol boats nearing the end of service life. The cutters will homeport near Tongue Point Job Corps Center.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, along with U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, recently wrote a letter to Adm. Karl Schultz, the commandant of the Coast Guard, requesting that two additional cutters be stationed locally.
“The community of Astoria is well-equipped to support the Coast Guard and its vessels in their mission here in Oregon,” the lawmakers wrote. “Co-locating four (fast response cutters) at Tongue Point will advance the Coast Guard’s mission, increase efficiency and economy of scale and provide close proximity to a number of world-class maritime services and shipyards.”
Two new vessels set for 2024 arrival
The Coast Guard expected the new fast response cutters to enter service by next year. But in a recent notice to nearby property owners, Capt. John Barresi said they would arrive by March 2024. The notice detailed the environmental assessments and construction needed to accommodate the two cutters.
The Coast Guard plans to demolish a dilapidated finger pier near the job corps campus and build a new one. The cutters would be reached by steel floating docks around the new pier. The Coast Guard plans to dredge more than 130,000 cubic yards of sediment around the new pier to provide adequate water depth for the cutters.
Robert Dorn, the CEO of Hyak Maritime and owner of the neighboring industrial shipyard, said the project could be a boon for his tenants, including Bergerson Construction and WCT Marine & Construction Inc. Bergerson could be involved with the demolition and rebuild of the pier, he said, while WCT Marine could build the floating docks.
“We’re next-door neighbors with a couple of businesses that, as they go out to bid projects, will have a little bit of a home-field advantage,” Dorn said. “Competitors will have to (mobilize) to come down to Astoria, and we’re right next door.”
Mayor Bruce Jones, a former commander of Coast Guard Sector Columbia River, described Tongue Point as an ideal location for the cutters.
“Astoria is committed to supporting a robust Coast Guard presence and homeporting infrastructure,” he said. “The growing shipyard and other maritime services capability at North Tongue Point make it an ideal location for an expanded fast response cutter siting.”
Coast Guard leaning toward Seattle
The congressional delegation sent a letter last year asking the Coast Guard to site two new 360-foot offshore patrol cutters in Astoria. The larger offshore cutters are meant to replace the 1960s-era medium endurance cutters, such as the Alert and Steadfast, both homeported at the 17th Street Dock in Astoria. Astoria is in competition with Everett, Washington, and the Seattle area for the two larger cutters.
Jones has said that getting the two larger cutters is critical to replacing the local Coast Guard jobs that could be lost once the Alert and Steadfast are decommissioned. The older cutters each have 70 to 75 crew members, he has said, more than twice as much as each fast response cutter.
“The sense I get is that the Coast Guard is leaning toward the Puget Sound area for the” offshore patrol cutters, Jones said Nov. 19. “If the (offshore cutters) do not come here, then it is even more important that all four (fast response cutters) come to Astoria, rather than just two, so that the net loss of personnel when Alert and Steadfast leave will be small.”