Proposed Coast Guard cuts a local concern

Proposed Coast Guard cuts a local concern

By GORDON JACKSON, Mar 14, 2017

ST. MARYS — A proposed 14 percent cut to the Coast Guard’s 2018 budget has generated concerns about the future of the Maritime Safety and Security Team in St. Marys.

In 2010, the unit was targeted for elimination to help pay for a proposed $300 million budget cut. The proposed budget for 2018 would cut $1.3 billion from the Coast Guard’s budget.

Camden Partnership director Sheila McNeill is among those concerned about the future of the MSST team in St. Marys, and the ability of the Coast Guard to perform its mission in homeland security with such a large budget cut.

Seven years ago, McNeill, former national Navy League president, successfully led a drive to restore Coast Guard funding, visiting 194 congressional offices to generate support. She said the proposed cuts are “stunning,” considering the important role the Coast Guard plays in homeland security.

“I’m as outraged as I’ve ever been dealing with something military,” she said. “Why in the world, when you’re talking homeland security, would you cut homeland security?”

Proposed cuts include deactivating Maritime Security Response Teams that patrol ports and sensitive waterways, canceling the construction of a new national security cutter and slashing the budget for new helicopters, vessels and other equipment.

And McNeill isn’t the only one expressing concerns.

Dave Burch, vice president of the Camden - Kings Bay Navy League Council, has issued a “call to action” in his effort to generate opposition to the cuts.

“As we did in 2010, when funding for five different MSST teams, including our St. Marys-based team, was threatened by budget cuts, it’s time to stand up and let our voices be heard,” he said. “As a military service with 11 statutory missions, including protecting our homeland from threats, a 14 percent cut in their budget is unacceptable. Speak up for the Coast Guard, they need our voice now more than ever.”

According to news reports, 23 U.S. senators from both parties are also urging the White House to restore the Coast Guard’s budget, saying the cuts “would directly contradict the priorities articulated by the Trump administration, in particular the priorities regarding enhanced maritime security needs and desire to invest in our national security.”

The cuts would help pay for an immigration crackdown, including hiring new customs and border patrol agents and officers, new border surveillance technology and the construction of a border wall.

McNeill said she can’t understand why the Coast Guard, a vital piece of homeland security, is targeted for cuts when it has been underfunded for years. Many of its vessels and aircraft are still in service, even though they have exceeded their projected life spans.

“The Coast Guard seems to get shortchanged all the time,” she said. “You just can’t continue to do this to the Coast Guard. I hope this decision is reversed.”