FAIRBANKS, Alaska (LOG NEWS SERVICE)—A spending bill approved by Congress that kept the federal government open included a project dear to the Alaska congressional delegation: a new polar icebreaker.
The spending bill includes $655 million for designing and building the icebreaker for the Coast Guard, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.
The bill includes $20 million for materials to eventually build a second icebreaker and $740 million for new cutters, including six to be based in Alaska.
The measure also provides $53 million for cutter support facilities in the state, with $22 million for Kodiak and $31 million to Seward.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, called the bill a significant step in the right direction toward an icebreaker fleet.
“I have been pushing to fully fund the acquisition of a fleet of Arctic-capable icebreakers – because of the importance of this vessel for the safety and security of the Arctic region and for our national security as a whole,” Murkowski said in a statement.
She called it a huge victory in her yearlong fight to help fulfill America’s responsibilities as an Arctic nation.
Her GOP colleague in Alaska, Sen. Dan Sullivan, also praised the funding.
“Congress and the Trump administration are acknowledging that Alaska is
America’s Arctic, a fact that is important to our broader national security interests,” he said in a statement.
Congress passed the bill Feb. 14 and Pres. Donald J. Trump signed it into law, securing government funding through Sept. 30.
The United States currently operates one heavy icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star, built in 1976, and one medium icebreaker, USCGC Healy that entered service in 2000. A third icebreaker, Polar Sea, has been out of commission since 2010, but has been used for parts to keep Polar Star running.
There are more than 100 dedicated icebreaking ships around the world. Russia has over 40 — by far the most — due in part to its long Arctic coastline. The country also has the only nuclear-powered icebreakers — and one became the first surface vessel to punch its way through to the North Pole in 1977.