Document Alert: A Ten-Year Prioritization of Infrastructure Needs in the U.S. Arctic

There is a new report, “A Ten-Year Prioritization of Infrastructure Needs in the U.S. Arctic,” prepared by The U.S. Committee on the Marine Transportation System Arctic Marine Transportation Integrated Action Team for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

I have quoted a portion of the Executive Summary below”


“This document, “A Ten-Year Prioritization of Infrastructure Needs in the U.S. Arctic” (Prioritization Framework), presents a framework to address Arctic infrastructure gaps by identifying needs that are considered to be critical requirements for a safe and secure U.S. Arctic Marine Transportation System (MTS) over the next decade.

“This report by the U.S. Committee on the Marine Transportation System (CMTS) fulfills directive 1.1.2 under the White House National Strategy for the Arctic Region (NSAR) 2014 Implementation Plan objective to “Prepare for Increased Activity in the Maritime Domain.” The deliverable for 1.1.2 is to “Deliver a 10-year prioritization framework to coordinate the phased development of Federal infrastructure through Department and Agency validated needs assessment by the end of 2016.” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx tasked this action to the CMTS in a May 2014 memorandum.

“Using the CMTS 2013 report U.S. Arctic Marine Transportation System: Overview and Priorities for Action (CMTS 2013 Arctic Report) definitions, this Prioritization Framework organizes the U.S. Arctic MTS into five core components:

  • Navigable Waterways
  • Physical Infrastructure
  • Information Infrastructure
  • Response Services
  • Vessels

“The recommendations set forth for consideration in this report are grouped into three categories under each of the five primary components: (1) infrastructure considerations that require both near-term planning and implementation; (2) infrastructure considerations requiring near term planning for mid- to long-term implementation; and (3) infrastructure considerations requiring long-term planning and implementation. This categorization facilitates the discussion of many coordinated infrastructure needs while acknowledging planning and funding requirements and limitations.

“Over the past five years, with the continuing trend in diminishing Arctic sea ice, discussions and projections for the Arctic as a new international trade route have increased. Some vessels, particularly smaller recreational vessels, currently operating in the Arctic are neither designed nor equipped for hazardous Arctic conditions. 2 As sea ice retreats, the lack of U.S. Arctic infrastructure to support increased maritime activity grows more apparent. Limited nautical charts, aids to navigation, communication, emergency response, and rescue capabilities make operations difficult and potentially dangerous. Other elements contributing to accident risks in the Arctic include inadequate maritime infrastructure and environmental and economic uncertainties, all major challenges identified in the CMTS 2013 Arctic Report.

“To address some of these risks, a number of studies have examined the gaps and potential infrastructure needs of the U.S. Arctic MTS. These needs include not only physical infrastructure such as ports, support vessels, and communication networks, but also the informational infrastructure enabling mariners to operate safely, such as nautical charts and electronic aids to navigation. The NSAR Implementation Plan (IP) identifies separate actions related to Arctic communications and aviation infrastructure [Objectives 1.2 Sustain and Support Evolving Aviation Requirements; and 1.3 Develop Communication Infrastructure in the Arctic]. This report synthesizes existing information on Arctic MTS infrastructure and gaps in order to distill requirements for future infrastructure needs over the next decade.

“There are 43 recommendations put forward in this report for necessary elements of a comprehensive Arctic MTS. This framework necessarily involves elements of the traditional definition of infrastructure, but also includes communication, planning, management, environmental policies, regulatory implementation, and the human element, all of which are required for safe, secure, and successful maritime transportation.

“Of the total list of recommendations, 25 are near-term recommendations to address the current gaps in U.S. Arctic infrastructure.

Presumably there will be interest in what they say about icebreakers. There are mentions elsewhere in the document, but this is a quote of the specific icebreaker section.

“The current Federal fleet of Polar icebreakers consists of one medium icebreaker (USCGC Healy) and one heavy icebreaker (USCGC Polar Star). The Polar Star is the only active heavy icebreaker and is primarily used in the Antarctic. The Healy is used primarily to support science missions in the Arctic, but may also be used to support other Coast Guard statutory missions such as search and rescue or provide persistent command and control capability, as required.

“It is important to note that capabilities of Coast Guard icebreakers often far exceed minimum international standards for icebreaking vessels, such as International Association for Classing Societies. These standards identify minimum power and structural survivability requirements of a single purpose vessel operating in ice infested waters. Unlike commercial vessels that are built to perform single missions with minimal crews, Coast Guard assets are multi-purpose vessels that incorporate aviation support, command and control, and additional power and endurance requirements necessary to perform all missions. The Coast Guard has assessed all available commercial icebreakers and has determined no currently operating vessel meets these critical mission and performance requirements for either a heavy or medium icebreaker. As a result, acquisition of new assets is the only viable option for obtaining additional icebreaking capacity.

“The Coast Guard currently has an acquisition program that will replace the capabilities of the Polar Star when complete. Due to lengthy design and production and anticipated decommissioning of the Polar Star, the Coast Guard will not provide additional capacity within the 10-year horizon. While Coast Guard icebreaking support has been used to facilitate commerce in emergency situations, such as the 2014 fuel resupply in Nome, the Coast Guard does not intend to use these vessels to facilitate routine commercial maritime traffic or to support commercial drilling operations.”

So does not look like we will even be considering vessels like the AIVIQ or the icebreakers that had been being built for Shell Oil construction of which has been suspended.

In addition to icebreakers, it looks like this will have implications for SAR, AtoN, Communications, and Marine Environmental Protection.




5 thoughts on “Document Alert: A Ten-Year Prioritization of Infrastructure Needs in the U.S. Arctic

  1. See near term recommendations under “Vessel Operations” heading.
    It states “Expand U.S. icebreaking capacity to adequately meet mission demands in the high latitudes.”
    I interpret the comment you reference to mean the USCG has no current plan that will fill this gap within the 10yr timeframe.
    My question is “what is near term” – I don’t see any definition of timeframes but one would assume it’s less than 10 years.

  2. The U.S.Senate identified an annual USD 100 billion shortfall in public investment in infrastructure. I doubt arctic “infrastructure” will (or deserves to) make it high enough on the list of actual investments.

    • Remember Alaska may have very few people, but they have two senators just like every other state, and so they have a disproportionate amount of clout. That is how they got a bridge to nowhere.

      • Don’t forget all the people in the lower 48 that work in Alaska during the Fishing season etc….. They bring the money back to their home state.

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