The Coast Guard plans to include the role it plays to keep commerce flowing and secure on the inland waterways as part of a new museum that will trace the history and varied missions of the nation’s smallest military service.
Currently under development, the museum will be located close to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. It’s estimated opening date is in 2024.
The facility will unfold around three themes and five story lines, including Safety and Security, Enforcers of the Sea, Lifesavers across the Globe, Champion of Commerce and Protectors of the Environment. Inland waterways and ports will be part of the Champion of Commerce section. It will highlight the close cooperation that has developed over the years with the inland towing and barge industry to ensure that products move seamlessly and safely on the rivers despite bad weather, high and low water, shoaling and other impediments to navigation.
“Seven-hundred million tons of cargo is delivered by barge each year, and 550 million of that is delivered on the rivers, which is $135 billion worth of products,” Jennifer Carpenter, president and CEO of the American Waterways Operators, said at a recent webinar organized by the National Coast Guard Museum Association to discuss the inland waterways portion of the museum. “So, it really is important.”
She said the industry works closely with the Coast Guard through several committees that not only deal with resolving pressing navigational problems, such as the recent halt to barging along the Mississippi River when a bridge was closed in Memphis, Tenn., or keeping commerce moving during the pandemic, but also to take the long view on improving vessel safety and implementing measures to prevent future crises. She said the industry enjoys a true partnership with its federal regulator, and as an example often provides the Coast Guard with information on aids to navigation that need fixing as well as serving as the eyes and ears for security on the waterways.
“Partnerships are based on trust,” Carpenter said. “You don’t want to wait for challenges or crises. You try to get together while the sun is shining and plan for rain.”
The Coast Guard is the only branch of the military not to have its own museum that showcases its heritage and honors its service members, and supporters of the concept wanted to change that. Planning began several years ago with the goal of raising more than $100 million. But the project, which had an initial opening date in 2017, has been dogged by fundraising hiccups, missed deadlines and environmental problems with the museum’s planned site on the waterfront of downtown New London.