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Coast Guard cutter needs fix

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Alder could soon be leaving its dock, hopefully under its own power. The federal government Friday awarded a contract to a Chesapeake, Va., diving company to repair the cutter in the water at its dock. The craft is an ...

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Alder could soon be leaving its dock, hopefully under its own power.

The federal government Friday awarded a contract to a Chesapeake, Va., diving company to repair the cutter in the water at its dock. The craft is an important part of Duluth's fleet, responsible for icebreaking, search and rescue and aids to navigation duties.

"They are supposed to be up here around Thursday to start taking a look at us," said Lt. J.G. Kenny Pepper, the Alder's spokesman.

The Alder has remained at its dock since March with a boom floating behind its stern to contain any hydraulic fluid leaking though a bad seal in the ship's controllable pitch propeller system. The problem with the Alder was discovered during machinery trials on March 8. An examination determined that a seal at the base of one of the propeller's four blades was leaking. Initial efforts to repair the leak were unsuccessful.

"I haven't heard of any of the other cutters having this problem," said Chief Robert Lanier, spokesmen with the Coast Guard's district offices in Cleveland.

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Operating the Alder with the leak could result in a release of oil and damage to the propeller. To avoid that, icebreaking duties in the harbor fell upon the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Biscayne Bay, based in St. Ignace, Mich.,

Repairing the problem will require workers to loosen blade, replacing the seal and retightening the bolts that hold the blade in place. If divers are unable to accomplish the task, the Alder will have to go into dry dock.

The Coast Guard considered putting the Alder in dry dock before deciding to try divers first. In deciding how to repair the Alder, Coast Guard officials had to consider what qualified shipyards wanted the job, how soon they could do the job and how much it would cost.

"Those three factors played into where we were looking to get the repairs done, in answering 'Are we are going to go to a dry dock or can we get it done by divers?'" said Lanier said.

"Our main goal is to get the ship repaired, back to 100 percent, and get it out on the water," Lanier said. "But we have to be stewards of the public's money. So we want to make sure that it's done properly but no money is wasted."

Officials with Fraser Shipyards talked to the Coast Guard, but did not put in a bid to repair the Alder, Gene Walroos, Fraser's general superintendent, said.

The Coast Guard's Aids to Navigation Team has begun placing navigational buoys in the Twin Ports using their 49-foot boat. The Alder isn't responsible for buoys in the harbor, although it will help place and remove them, Pepper said.

"Our buoys are out on the lake and in Lake Michigan," he said.

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The 225-foot, 2,000-ton Alder was launched in 2004 in Marinette, Wis. It was stationed in Duluth to replace the World War II-era Sundew. According to the Alder's Web site, the Juniper Class Seagoing Buoy Tender is capable of performing icebreaking, search and rescue, aids to navigation, security and law enforcement duties. It is also equipped with an oil-skimming system to help clean up oil spills.

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