Capito tours WV Coast Guard facilities

HUNTINGTON — Adm. Karl Schultz, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, paid a visit to the USCGC Osage on Friday afternoon as the vessel docked along Harris Riverfront Park in Huntington.

Schultz was joined by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., who both sit on congressional committees that oversee and fund the Coast Guard’s mission.

The Osage, a buoy tender stationed out of Sewickley, Pennsylvania, in the Pittsburgh metro area, is a classic example for the improvements Shultz hoped the Coast Guard could make to their aging inland fleet with more congressional funding.

Though the vessel gets the job done marking the channels up and down the Ohio River, the “bread-and-butter type work in the heartland of America,” as the admiral put it, it’s still more than 50 years old, with the problems that come with time. There are issues with lead and asbestos on the aging ship, and the vessel still cannot house a mixed-gendered crew, among other concerns.

“This is not where the modern Coast Guard needs to be,” Schultz said during a tour of the vessel.

More than $4.6 trillion in annual GDP, or gross domestic product, flow across the nation’s western river systems, which include the Ohio River, at 351 seaports dotted along the heart of America. Buoy tenders like the Osage keep those inland waterways clearly and regularly marked so river traffic can proceed.

But much of the Coast Guard’s buoy tenders, cutters, icebreakers and other vessels are getting old, and the branch is progressing toward modernizing its fleet.

Funding and other matters critical to the Coast Guard’s mission runs through the Senate Appropriations Committee, which Capito serves on, particularly the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, which she chairs. Miller serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which manages much of the Coast Guard’s domestic needs.

Capito echoed Schultz’s concern about the aging vessels, adding that Congress and the Coast Guard are in ongoing talks to plan out future acquisitions and funding that would replace 35 vessels with a new class of ships and barges.

The senator also expressed concern for the quality of life of “coasties,” noting that Coast Guard personnel were not paid for 35 days during the recent government shutdown. Capito said the subcommittee is exploring a contingency plan to make sure personnel are paid should a future shutdown occur.

The stop at Huntington’s riverfront concluded a daylong tour of Coast Guard facilities across West Virginia for Capito and Shultz. The trip included the National Maritime Center in Martinsburg; the National Vessel Documentation Center in Falling Waters; the Operations Systems Center in Kearneysville; and the Marine Safety Unit Huntington in Barboursville.

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