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Chatuauqua presentation educates public on U.S. Coast Guard

Lt. Judson Coleman, chief of waterways management for the Duluth Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit, gave a presentation, “The United States Coast Guard and Lake Superior, Greatest of the Great Lakes,” on the operations of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) on Lake Superior on Wednesday, July 10, as part of the ongoing Crosslake Chautauqua Program.

The program is held on the second Wednesday each month in the Crosslake Community Center to educate those who attend.

During the presentation, Coleman described the responsibilities of his unit.

“When you think of the Coast Guard, search and rescue is the first thing that comes to mind,” he said. “What we like to do is prevent things from getting to the point where you have a ship that is on the rocks or broken down. We do a lot of the behind the scenes preventative work.”

As chief of waterways management, he oversees pollution response, water front facility inspections and security, contingency planning and exercises, and “anything that can impact safety on the water.”

Some of 21 active personnel in his unit inspects freight ships and vessels that come into port from within the United States or abroad with ships able to carry up to 63,000 gross tons of cargo. Coleman said the Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit in Duluth inspects between 50 and 60 non-Canadian foreign vessels that travel in the port every year.

“Anything that carries more than six passengers is something we are going to inspect one way or another,” he said.

Coleman said he has seen new members of the Coast Guard unit in Duluth amazed by the quickly changing climate near Lake Superior.

“Lake Superior is like a fresh water ocean at times,” he said. “One thing that catches people off guard is when they realize the different microclimates the lake creates.”

During the winter months, the unit is busy inspecting the maintenance done on the vessels before they return to the water.

“Often times, you wouldn’t think the winter would be extremely busy for us, but it is,” Coleman said.

When the ships leave port, the unit also plays the role of environmental steward.

“It’s a big part of what we do,” he said. “We have a good track record on the Great Lakes. People are invested in the quality of the lakes and preventing spills in the lakes.”

Coleman said that during 45 pollution responses by the Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit from 2011 to 2012, a total of 114 total gallons of pollutions were found to be spilled into the Lake Superior.

He also spoke about the unit and its role during the floods last June in Duluth where some areas received nearly 10 inches of rain and where he said 17 rescues took place.

“There were residents on rooftops and others displaced from their homes entirely,” he said. “The big unknown, too, was how were we doing from a pollution standpoint. One of the biggest concerns turned out to be propane tanks and mystery drums that washed away from backyards.”

When focusing on disasters, however, the unit prioritizes the concerns created with human health and safety being addressed first followed by property and ending with the environmental response.

“The floods were significant and there were many concerns,” Coleman said. “By protecting property, it prevents further pollution and further damage.”

Coleman said he enjoys being part of the Coast Guard, where he was recruited after studying environmental studies at the University of Iowa.

“When the recruiter told me that he could guarantee me that I could go to Valdez, Alaska, for one year, I was sold,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun. Moving around is a challenge, which I enjoy for the time being, but it’s fun to explore.”

For more information on the Crosslake Chautauqua Program and scheduled speakers, call 218-692-4271 or visit