Government shutdown curtails Coast Guard activities in Connecticut
Five hundred active duty U.S. Coast Guard officers based in New Haven and New London are working, unsure when their next paycheck will arrive.
Not all cargo ships headed to ports in New Haven and New York City are being inspected for violations of safety or environmental regulations. Fishing laws are not being enforced in Long Island Sound nor are Coast Guard members boarding boats checking for proper life-saving equipment.
In the partial government shutdown, now in its third week, the Coast Guard, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, is one of nine agencies affected by the shutdown.
“Everybody is just hoping for this to be expedited,” said Steve Strohmaier, petty officer in the Coast Guard’s New York Public Affairs Office, which oversees Connecticut. “Everyone wants to get paid and preferably on time. We are all hoping for the best and that government can work together to resolve this the best way possible.”
Imminent threats to public safety or property will be immediately addressed by the Coast Guard during the shutdown. Search-and-rescue missions or national-security operations in local ports will not be curtailed.
But non-essential Coast Guard functions have been stopped.
“Things like (monitoring) rec(reation) boats, boardings, issuing of merchant documentation and licensing, fishing enforcement patrols and aids to navigation maintenance — those are the kinds of things that get pushed back,” said Petty Officer Zachary Hupp in the Boston Public Affairs Office, overseeing New England.
Because so many Coast Guard services are proactive to prevent accidents, their absence on Long Island Sound will not be felt by most people unless there is an emergency, said Chris Soto, a former Coast Guard officer who represented New London in the state Legislature until his resignation Tuesday to join the new Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration.
“Most people don’t live on the water, and they don’t realize how the Coast Guard’s work impacts them,” said Soto. “People won’t realize that there is an issue until something happens. ... Until an oil spill happens, until something around fisheries happens, until a security issue happens.”
The U.S. Coast Guard in Connecticut
Number of Coast Guard personnel in Connecticut:
1,100 students and about 400 faculty and staff at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London
500 active duty officers, 200 reserve members, over 1,300 volunteer auxiliary members and 16 civilians at Coast Guard stations in New Haven and New London
Long Island Sound including 450 miles of coastline in Connecticut and Long Island and three deep-water ports in New London, New Haven and Bridgeport and an off-shore petroleum loading platform in Riverhead, N.Y.
Search and rescue, law enforcement, domestic ice breaking, maintenance of aids to navigation, port safety and security, marine environmental protection, waterways management, marine inspection, and casualty investigation
Year of U.S. Coast Guard’s founding: 1790
First Coast Guard Academy class: 1876
Source: U.S. Coast Guard
At the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, 1,100 students returned to campus Monday, but about 160 of 260 non-essential employees are on furlough, said Lauren Laughlin, petty officer second class in the Academy’s Public Affairs Office.
The furloughed employees include maintenance and facilities staff, and fall and spring sports coaches. Professors will teach their classes, which start Saturday.
The shutdown will not impact students’ academic work nor winter sports, Laughlin said. But an annual school-wide awards ceremony honoring leaders of character was canceled Monday because necessary staff were furloughed.
At Connecticut’s two Coast Guard stations in New Haven and New London, 16 civilians are employed and all are furloughed, unless they work on “essential functions” such as coordinating search-and-rescue responses, Strohmaier said.
The first paycheck that working U.S. Coast Guard members may miss as a result of the shutdown would normally be paid on Jan. 15.
On the House floor Tuesday, Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., who represents the 2nd District, read an excerpt of a letter from a U.S. Coast Guard member named “Jeremy” from Colchester, who wrote, “My family cannot go indefinitely without pay, nor should they have to.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., introduced a bill Thursday to fund the Coast Guard during the shutdown, but it has not yet been acted on.
“I’m hopeful the majority will agree to bring it to the floor within the next week or so,” Blumenthal said Tuesday.
President Donald Trump discussed the partial government shutdown and his desire to build a wall in a prime-time television address on Tuesday night. He argued passionately in favor of the wall and gave no indication of relenting on the shutdown, unless a government spending bill included funding for the wall. He invited Congressional leaders to the White House Wednesday to continue conversations.
The partial shutdown is affecting 25 percent of the government and thousands of federal employees.
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