The United States Coast Guard Cutter Alder will depart Duluth and sail under the Aerial Lift Bridge for the last time in July, the Coast Guard announced Friday.

After spending over 16 years homeported in the Twin Ports, Alder and its crew will move to Baltimore for a year of maintenance, before the vessel ultimately resides in its new homeport of San Francisco.

Another 225-foot buoy tender, Cutter Spar, will replace the Alder in Duluth in spring 2022.

Upon arriving in Duluth, Spar will assume Alder’s current area of responsibility on the Great Lakes, and continue the missions of maintaining aids to navigation, domestic icebreaking, search-and-rescue and law enforcement, the Coast Guard news release said.

“Alder has been an ally to shipping interests in Lake Superior for almost 17 years, and we’ve been grateful to have her stationed in our port," Duluth Seaway Port Authority Executive Director Deb DeLuca said in a statement reacting to the news. "These cutters and their crews are critical to maintaining the safe and efficient flow of commercial shipping on the Great Lakes. ... They are truly key assets. We salute and thank Alder and her crew, and we look forward to the arrival of Spar from Alaska.”

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Deb DeLuca
Deb DeLuca

Upon leaving next month, the Alder will transit across the Great Lakes, through the St. Lawrence Seaway, and south along the East Coast to the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore, the Coast Guard news release said.

Spar, originally homeported in Kodiak, Alaska, was commissioned in August 2001. Spar maintained aids to navigation along the Aleutian Islands and the Bering Sea until fall 2020, when it departed for the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore for maintenance.

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Throughout the Coast Guard, the 225-foot Juniper class buoy tenders are undergoing midlife maintenance updates, the Coast Guard said, during which critical ship systems are evaluated and extensive repairs are made.

The ships are expected to continue to service aids to navigation for many years to come.

"They play a valuable and versatile role, most visibly during icebreaking season, but also when they’re tending navigational buoys or supporting rescues," DeLuca said.

During the gap between the Alder's departure and Spar's arrival, it's unclear how icebreaking will be conducted in the Twin Ports this fall and winter. The Cutter Mackinaw, out of Cheboygan, Michigan, is the only heavy icebreaking asset on the Great Lakes, and has made occasional stops in Duluth.

Cutter Hollyhock is assigned to Port Huron, Michigan, and could also be an option, along with possible Canadian assets. The Coast Guard office in Duluth did not respond in time for this report.

Alder first arrived in the port of Duluth-Superior on Oct. 17, 2004, replacing the Sundew, which was decommissioned in May 2004.