Potential Coast Guard budget cuts could affect emergency response, economy
By ALEXANDRIA RODRIGUEZ | The Corpus Christi Caller-Times (Tribune News Service) | Published: August 11, 2017
While Coast Guard Sector Corpus Christi's main duty is to guard what are frequently the calm waters of the Corpus Christi Bay, things aren't so calm behind the scenes of the Coast Guard at large.
President Donald Trump has proposed cutting that branch of service's budget by $1.3 billion, or 12 percent, in fiscal year 2018, according to the USA Today Network.
Coast Guard Capt. Tony Hahn said the cuts could affect Coast Guardsmen's ability to complete their mission of protecting the public, the environment and economic interests in ports and waterways.
Sector Corpus Christi guards the coastline from the mouth of the Colorado River near Bay City south to Brownsville, Hahn said. In that area, Coast Guardsmen protect ports, conduct search-and-rescue missions, inspect commercial vessels and stop illegal fishing.
"The only mission we don't do in Corpus Christi is ice breaking, for obvious reasons," he said.
Over time, Hahn has had to make trade offs to ensure the sector stays within their budget allowance.
In the past five fiscal years, the Coast Guard's budget was at its highest in 2016 at nearly $11 billion. The president's proposed budget for 2017 is about $663 million less than last year's budget, according to Coast Guard documents.
"The problem with the Coast Guard's budget is not just this year, it's over time," Hahn said. "Our budget has not kept pace with what we need to do from our operation and maintenance accounts."
Some of the trade-offs made have come at the expense of buildings needed for training, staffing requirements and replacing older vessels.
Life of equipment and aircraft also have been stretched because of the budget constraints.
The HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft, which Sector Corpus Christi uses for water rescue missions, are roughly 50 years old, but Hahn said replacing them will prove difficult under proposed budget constraints.
Port of Corpus Christi officials agree the Coast Guard is integral to the safety of the city and its port.
"They have a massive amount of responsibility," said Tom Mylett, director of port security chief of police for Port of Corpus Christi. "They're the primary law enforcement on the water. "
Port police and Coast Guard members often work side-by-side to ensure the safety of the waterways.
The law enforcement agencies participate in several training exercises, such as rescue swimmer training and search-and-rescue training near the jetties, Mylett said.
Military equipment also comes into the port, and the Coast Guard provides security on the water to make sure no one tampers with the equipment.
Sector Corpus Christi Coast Guardsmen also perform aerial overflights of the entire port to check for oil spills or suspicious activity, Mylett said.
Any loss of staff in Corpus Christi could have economic effects on the city as well.
"Those people own homes here, buy groceries here," said Joe Guzman, director of the South Texas Military Facilities Task Force committee of the United Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce. "All that is impacted because we won’t have that money they spend here for those goods."
Admiral Paul Zukunft, commandant for the Coast Guard, is asking for a 5 percent growth of operational accounts to fund all aspects of the service branch's mission.
"Cuts would hurt everybody," Mylett said. "They're really dedicated, sacrificing individuals.They need all the support they can get. I don't think anyone could afford to lose what they got."
©2017 the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (Corpus Christi, Texas)
Visit the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (Corpus Christi, Texas) at www.caller.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.