SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Under a proposal by President Donald Trump, the U.S. Coast Guard could endure substantial budget cuts — but what that might mean for the agency’s facilities in Maine is unknown.
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that Trump’s draft budget includes a 14 percent cut — about $1.3 billion — to the current $9.1 billion U.S. Coast Guard budget and 11 percent cuts to the Transportation Security Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency budgets, all in order to fund the planned multibillion-dollar border wall.
Funding for other programs within the Department of Homeland Security, of which the Coast Guard is a part, would increase, boosting the department’s overall budget by 6.4 percent to $43.8 billion. Among other things, the increase in Homeland Security funding would go toward the creation of “immigration detention beds” and additional border patrol and immigration agents.
Lt. David Bourbeau, spokesman for Coast Guard Sector Northern New England in South Portland, said Friday that he doesn’t know the full extent of what the proposed budget cuts could mean in terms of impact to Maine. In the meantime, “nothing changes,” he said. “We still do our jobs as we have every day.”
Chief Warrant Officer Hans Schultz, based at the Coast Guard station in Rockland, echoed that sentiment, emphasizing that there’s no way, from a local level, to grapple with what the implications could be because it’s “pre-decisional” at this point.
Approximately 551 of the 758 active duty military members in Maine are in the Coast Guard, according to data released last year by the media platform Governing. The Coast Guard has facilities or offices in South Portland, Boothbay Harbor, Rockland, Belfast, Southwest Harbor, Jonesport and Eastport.
Attempts Friday afternoon to contact municipal officials in Boothbay Harbor, Rockland, South Portland and Southwest Harbor about the local impacts the proposed cuts could have were unsuccessful.
While Coast Guard stations dot coastal areas across the country, to be officially named a Coast Guard City — a designation handed down by Congress — means there is a particularly supportive relationship between the municipality housing the station and the members of the Coast Guard. There are currently 21 in the country, with Rockland the only designated Coast Guard City in Maine, Schultz said.
In a station like the one in Rockland, which is outfitted with about 70 staff and six boats — three of which are “cutters” designed to break up ice on water — a budget cut the size of what Trump is proposing could have noticeable impacts.
Primarily acting as search and rescue and law enforcement, the Rockland Coast Guard’s jurisdiction covers virtually all of Penobscot Bay and 50 miles offshore into the Atlantic Ocean, Coast Guard Station Chief Carter Seigh said Friday. On average, members of the Coast Guard in Rockland respond to about 75 calls a year, Seigh said.
In a statement Thursday, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree called the proposed cuts “illogical and reckless” and said the border wall “will do nothing to improve national security.”
“Not only do these dedicated men and women protect our coasts and enforce the law, but they are the first responders for fishermen and boaters in maritime emergencies,” Pingree said. “Not to mention the critical role FEMA plays in supporting Maine’s infrastructure in recovering from major snow and ice storms. The impact of these cuts on public safety would be devastating. I certainly won’t stand for these cuts if they come before the Appropriations Committee.”
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said Friday by phone that he has never seen proposed budget cuts to the Coast Guard “of this magnitude.”
Coast Guard infrastructure is already aging, insufficient and underfunded, he said.
King, along with 22 other senators, including three Republicans, sent a letter Thursday to the Office of Management and Budget saying they would not support the proposed cuts, and warning of “catastrophic negative impacts” to the service should the cuts be implemented.
“We strongly urge you to refrain from any such cuts,” the senators wrote in the letter to OMB Director John Mulvaney. “The Coast Guard budget has suffered a steady decline since 2010, which resulted in negative impacts to Coast Guard missions, infrastructure, delays in necessary recapitalization efforts and has generally constrained Coast Guard operations. We are concerned that the Coast Guard would not be able to maintain maritime presence, respond to individual and national emergencies and protect our nation’s economic and environmental interests.”
The letter added that the Coast Guard’s fleet of vessels is already on its way to being technologically obsolete, and that the proposed cuts would directly contradict Trump’s call for enhanced maritime security and greater investment in the military.
BDN reporter Beth Brogan contributed to this story.