Juneau icebreaker included in federal spending bill as Congress faces shutdown deadline

The Aiviq anchored in Unalaska in August 2016. (Sarah Hansen/KUCB)

A U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker based in Juneau is back on the table amid a new attempt to secure federal funding.

Early Thursday morning, Congress unveiled a $1.2 trillion spending bill that would fund parts of the U.S. government through September. It includes a $125 million appropriation for an icebreaker slated to be homeported in downtown Juneau.

On a call with reporters on Thursday, Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan , said he is “pretty darn excited about it.” 

“This is really good news for Alaska. Really good news for America. And certainly good news for Southeast and the Juneau area,” he said. 

This isn’t the first attempt to bring an icebreaker to Alaska. In 2022, Sullivan supported a $150 million appropriation to buy a privately owned icebreaker, called the Aiviq. But that was axed from the bill at the last minute. 

Sullivan said this year’s bill doesn’t specify the Aiviq, but it’s the only suitable vessel he knows. He said he’s hopeful that this attempt won’t land on the chopping block, too. But the bill still needs to pass the Senate and be signed by the president. 

“We were working day in and day out to make sure that we did not have a repeat of what happened a year ago,” he said.

In a prepared statement, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said getting an icebreaker in Alaska would be a “critical milestone” to bolster the U.S. fleet. Rep. Mary Peltola, a Democrat, said it would allow the U.S. to “take a leadership position in the Arctic.

Sullivan said the U.S. currently has two icebreakers, both based in Seattle. Russia has the world’s largest icebreaker fleet, with 55 of them. 

“Our part of the world is getting to be a very dangerous place. And we need the capability to protect our national security interests, our economic interests, not just for Alaska, but for America,” he said. 

A new icebreaker could bring 190 Coast Guard personnel and their families to Juneau. Sullivan said it would take a collaborative effort between the Coast Guard, the city and the private sector to create enough housing and child care opportunities for all of those people. 

“The city of Juneau certainly seems to be focused on this, motivated to help bring those support services and support infrastructure. And so does the Coast Guard, and so it’s going to be a combination of all of these things,” he said.

If the funding goes through, the Coast Guard estimates the icebreaker could be ready for use in 18 to 24 months and fully operational in six to seven years — but Sullivan said he wants to press the Coast Guard to shorten that timeline.

Congress is on a tight deadline. Lawmakers only have until midnight Friday to pass six funding bills in order to stop a partial federal government shutdown.

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