PORT ANGELES — A ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Port Angeles Coast Guard Station marked the startup of the nation’s second submarine escort pier facility.
Cooperation between the Coast Guard and Navy was lauded at the Friday ceremony at Coast Guard Air Station-Sector Field Office Port Angeles on Ediz Hook.
The Coast Guard’s $25.6 million Maritime Force Protection Unit (MPFU) pier and support complex, built by the Navy at the tip of Ediz Hook just inside the base’s guard station, includes a 425-foot pier, an armory and an alert-forces facility.
The alert-forces building includes sleeping quarters for up to 50 personnel.
The Coast Guard began staffing escort vessels that are now based at the pier beginning Sept. 5, Coast Guard Cmdr. Thomas Evans, head of the Maritime Force Protection Unit at Bangor, said Friday in an interview after the ceremony.
The vessels function as part of the transportation protection system for Naval Base Kitsap’s Bangor-based, ballistic-missile-bearing Trident submarines, which will not dock at the pier.
Up to six escort ships will berth there, where three were docked Friday, including two blocking vessels.
The first Coast Guard MPFU was commissioned in 2007 at St. Mary’s, Ga., home port for Trident Submarine Base Kings Bay.
The Ediz Hook facility was toured after Friday’s morning ceremony by many among more than 100 military and civilian personnel.
They packed into the alert-forces facility meeting room, hearing brief, hearty accolades for the project and the interaction between military services that brought it to fruition.
They were joined by Port Angeles City Council members and staff from Washington state’s congressional delegation, also praised for making the day a reality.
“It doesn’t take a village, but it takes a lot of people in the boat pulling on the oars in the same direction,” said Rear Admiral David Throop, commander of the 13th Coast Guard District in Seattle, joking it was just his second ribbon-cutting ceremony in a decades-long career.
“This facility had the highest budget for shore-side facilities, even above the entire Coast Guard,” Throop said.
“This team gets the boat going in the right direction, pulling hard to get where we are today.
“What this facility represents is a ready, relevant and responsive Coast Guard to protect the strategic assets for our nation.
“To our Navy brothers and sisters, we appreciate you.”
The project is “instructive of a greater partnership with the Navy,” Evans told the crowded room.
He complimented the Port Angeles Sector Field Office staff for being gracious “on a project that doesn’t necessarily benefit them.”
Navy operations management department head Theo Cragg, of Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific at Bangor, said the lack of dedicated facilities for the transportation protection system placed a “heavy burden” of numerous challenges on the program.
The new pier “contributes directly to the nation’s strategic deterrence mission,” he said, adding that the project has been a decade in the making.
Before the new pier was built, the Coast Guard’s submarine escort mission for Bangor was accomplished through temporary measures, Evans said in the interview.
The Coast Guard would dock its ships at the Port of Port Angeles’ nearby Boat Haven.
Blocking vessels would berth at City Pier, and crews would spend the night at the Air Station.
Navy spokeswoman Leslie Yuenger said Friday in a telephone interview that the Navy is still tallying the final cost of the project.
An earlier $16.7 million price tag from summer 2015 was based on upgrading and using an existing pier, Yuenger said.
The final project included the relocation of eelgrass beds and the removal of a rock jetty.
Evans said that Cooke Aquaculture salmon pens located near the pier appear to be in operation.
The pens were slated for removal, but plans for pens at a site near Morse Creek were stymied by legislation Gov. Jay Inslee signed in March that phases out salmon farming.
“They moved it a little bit to the west, so there are no issues,” Evans said after the ceremony Friday, looking toward the net pens, which lay just offshore.
The state Department of Natural Resources has terminated its lease with Cooke to operate at the site, although the Canadian company has challenge the action in a lawsuit playing out in Thurston County Superior Court.
DNR spokeswoman Carrie McCausland said Friday that the salmon pens must be removed by June 30, 2019.
“After that date, they cannot continue to operate at the facility,” she said. “They have not communicated that there is any change in terms of their operation there.”
A Cooke spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
The Navy’s Transit Protection System for in-transit ballistic-missile submarines was established after USS Cole the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole was attacked Oct. 12, 2000 while refueling in the Yemeni Port of Aden.
Evans said in the interview that the bombing by al-Qaida, which killed 17 sailors, played a significant role in establishing the MFPU program that led to the Port Angeles Harbor facility.
“That was one of those important factors that brought the Navy and Coast Guard together,” he said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].