Coast Guard collects honor, eyes extra work along Pittsburgh's rivers
By Tim Puko
Published: Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, 11:52 p.m.
Mike Flynn was feeling a little extra pressure this fall.
The Coast Guard reservist was leading the group's color guard, in addition to his usual once-a-month stints of patrolling the rivers.
That meant helping to get the force ready for its first appearance in leading Pittsburgh's Veterans Day parade. And it paid off, with his group on Sunday winning the parade's first prize for best veterans' color guard.
“We were proud to be there, for sure, and proud to be representing the United States Coast Guard,” said Flynn, 35, of Westwood, a full-time patrol officer for the city police. “We are very small, so it's nice to be visible and hear people cheering for us.”
It's been a big few weeks for the Pittsburgh Marine Safety Unit, or MSA, a group of 28 active-duty officers and 29 reservists based out of Downtown. In addition to their spotlight at the city parade, the guard's national leaders floated a proposal on Oct. 30 that would allow shale drilling wastewater to come right through the Port of Pittsburgh. The unit here would have to inspect the boats leaving the port to deliver frackwater.
“It is going to be additional work, but it's not like we couldn't handle it,” said Coast Guard Cmdr. Lindsay Weaver-Marcenelle. “Even if they added 10 barges, and we had to inspect 10 barges, we can do it.”
Pittsburgh is the second-biggest inland port in the country after St. Louis, establishing a big responsibility for the local Coast Guard, which oversees 328 miles of the Three Rivers in three states, Weaver-Marcenelle said.
The Coast Guard does everything from approving emergency plans for oil and chemical operations to keeping boaters safe at the annual regatta.
The unit conducts one or two inspections every day, Weaver-Marcenelle said. It has to check every barge and commercial boat in the port, which includes industrial shippers and tourist boats. It's helping Just Ducky Tours plan to lay out and build the required safety equipment into a vessel it just bought, Weaver-Marcenelle said.
Her unit can handle drilling wastewater — or frackwater — too, if that work is eventually approved, she said. A public comment period ends on Nov. 29, and the Coast Guard will review those comments before making a decision.
The Coast Guard inspects the integrity of the vessel, safety preparations and equipment, Weaver-Marcenelle said.
The city's Coast Guard unit often gets overshadowed by the presence of Army and Air Force reserve units in Coraopolis because they're a lot bigger, said Tony Filardi, the adjunct treasurer in the Federation of War Veterans Societies of Allegheny County, the parade organizer.
He said the Coast Guard performed wonderfully when its officers led the show.
“I was looking for something a little bit different,” Filardi said of asking the Coast Guard to lead, with Weaver-Marcenelle as grand marshal. “They're veterans also. As far as I'm concerned, all veterans deserve an equal chance.”
Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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