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    Coast Guard Illuminates Safe Passage on the Columbia River



    Story by Petty Officer 3rd Class Trevor Lilburn 

    U.S. Coast Guard District 13

    A massive ship loaded with vehicles has just sailed across the Pacific Ocean and entered the Columbia River, safely crossing the most dangerous bar on the West Coast. But, before they can deliver the goods to the Port of Portland they have to make their way up the shallow and narrow navigation channel of the Columbia River, blinded by thick fog, darkness, and likely heavy rainfall.

    The Columbia River pilot and the captain of the ship search for the aids to navigation beacon or channel marker to appear in the distance. But it’s not there. They double check the chart and ensure their calculations are correct. They scan for the marker. Instead, there is only fog and bitter-cold. They are lost, staring into the darkness, searching for a guiding light.

    It’s scenarios like this that make the Coast Guard such an important military and safety service. It’s why members of the Coast Guard’s Aids to Navigation team in Astoria, Oregon, are hustling to catch-up on critical operations recently delayed by the temporary lapse in appropriations.

    The ANT Astoria team is responsible for the largest river on the west coast. From where the Willamette River feeds into the Columbia River, all the way down to the infamous sand-bar known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific.”

    “We provide a safe and navigable channel for all the traffic running up and down the Columbia River,” said Chief Petty Officer Garret Kravitz, the officer-in-charge at ANT Astoria.

    Buoys, beacons and ranges, known as Aids to Navigation or ATON, are tools used by mariners to visually navigate potentially-treacherous waterways. Imagine them like the traffic lights on a road.

    The recent funding delay put the regularly-scheduled maintenance behind track. Kravitz said that his teams are working hard to correct discrepancies and keep river traffic flowing safely.

    “The major operators, the large ships and pilots, they depend on those aids, to safely navigate the river,” said Kravitz. “If we let them go discrepant, then navigating at night or in low-visibility conditions would create the potential for a catastrophic event.”

    ANT Astoria crews use a 26-foot Trailerable Aids to Navigation Boat to service ATON. The 26-foot TANB is pulled behind a diesel truck to reach locations all over the river.

    Lengthy delays of any kind could potentially lead to catastrophic failures in local commerce. But Kravitz was confident in the Coast Guard’s ability to stay steadfast during those times.

    “We’re stationed in a location where we can pull resources from surrounding units,” said Kravitz. “We have enough spare parts to float us for three to six months, before we would begin to see serious degradation.”

    However, one major hurdle does arise fairly quickly for the team during any funding delays.

    “The real problem was a lack of fuel,” said Kravitz. “We don’t have a storage facility here. We charge fuel to a government-funded gas card. If the card isn’t funded, how do we buy gas?”

    The mission-critical vehicles hold enough fuel for a full day of operations. But during a lapse in appropriations, the gas-card goes unfunded. So, even with spare parts available; no card means no gas. No gas means no truck. No truck means no boat. No boat means no ATON servicing.

    Conditions like those could have had the potential to create a mega problem.

    If ATON do not receive the necessary attention, they will start to fail. One by one, until all the lights are darkened and all the beacons become unreadable.

    The situation would equate to, essentially, driving down a city mainstream without any street lights, traffic lights, stop signs, danger signs, intersection signs, crosswalk signs, painted lines or even lanes.

    Add to that the potential for winter storms making it impossible to see past the windshield. The only way to navigate in that scenario would be solely with a GPS device and the jarring “thunk” of tires pin-balling off curbs.

    This analogy works, if you think of the “cars" as gigantic ships, carrying a million barrels of oil, and the “curbs" as the banks of the river. Many Americans call those shorelines home and would be aghast if they woke up to find a 700-foot shipping tanker parked in their backyard.

    That sequence of events faces the nation’s waterways if the Coast Guard goes unfunded again. But with the passing of a budget plan and securing of funds for the remaining fiscal year, the worst-case scenario is, once again, unlikely to happen.

    The crews were also happy to jump right back in saddle, with no delays, thanks in part to help from the local community.

    “We are so grateful to the people of Astoria,” said Kravitz. “I’ve never seen such an out-pouring of support from the community. And I’ve got reports from buddies throughout the Coast Guard who experienced the same thing from their local communities. Americans really pulled together and we are so grateful.”

    ANT Astoria works in conjunction with two other units; ANT Kennewick, stationed in Washington, and the Cutter Bluebell, a 73-year-old ATON platform, home-ported in Portland, Oregon.

    These three units, together, protect The Columbia River ATON infrastructure and, as a result, help safeguard approximately $24 billion in maritime industrial revenue each year.




    Date Taken: 02.28.2019
    Date Posted: 03.01.2019 11:30
    Story ID: 312392
    Location: ASTORIA, OR, US 
    Hometown: ASTORIA, OR, US

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