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Coast Guard faces growing costs for protecting Trump’s Mar-a-Lago

  • The U.S. Coast Guard patrols Lake Worth Lagoon as President Donald Trump returns to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., last month. AP file



Washington Post
Thursday, April 13, 2017

The U.S. Coast Guard has received no extra funding to cover the additional costs of protecting President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort during his frequent trips to the Florida estate, the service’s top official said Wednesday.

Adm. Paul Zukunft, the Coast Guard’s commandant, also provided new details about the challenges the service faces in safeguarding the Palm Beach property because of its waterfront exposure on two sides – the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Intracoastal Waterway to the west.

Whenever Trump visits, Zukunft said, the Coast Guard dispatches helicopters, patrol boats and anti-terrorism teams for round-the-clock patrols, Zukunft said during a breakfast with journalists.

“We have teams protecting the approaches to Mar-a-Lago on both coasts,” Zukunft said. “We’re also protecting in the air, as well,” he added, noting that the service watches for “low, slow fliers” and any other “potential aviation threat to our commander in chief.”

Asked about the costs of protecting Mar-a-Lago, Zukunft said officials were trying to determine a figure to provide to Congress, but that at the moment the service was working within existing funding constraints.

“Is there a supplemental to support this?” he said. “The answer is no.”

Zukunft’s comments highlight the growing costs to taxpayers of Trump’s lifestyle, including routine jaunts to Mar-a-Lago and the need to fortify Trump Tower in New York, where Trump’s wife and youngest son have chosen to live. Trump is expected to return to Mar-a-Lago this weekend for his seventh trip since the inauguration.

Mar-a-Lago, the private club Trump has dubbed the “winter White House,” lacks the established protection measures of the White House or Camp David, and officials there in recent months have been forced to build a presidential compound from scratch.

The Trump administration’s draft budget last month called for cutting the Coast Guard’s funding by 14 percent, or about $1.3 billion, but the White House has since said it would keep the service’s budget flat compared with the previous year.

Three anti-terrorism teams were involved in the protection of Mar-a-Lago when Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping visited last week, Zukunft said. Those Maritime Safety and Security teams carry out port safety patrols and are trained to operate after an attack by chemical, biological or radiological means.

Trump has spent about 21 days at Mar-a-Lago this year. Based on a Washington Post review of estimates of past presidential trips and assessments of security costs, Trump’s continued travel there could drive the price tag for Coast Guard support at the estate into the tens of millions of dollars over a four-year term.

An MH-65 Dolphin helicopter, commonly used in air patrols like those over Mar-a-Lago, costs $7,533 an hour to run, or more than $180,000 for an all-day patrol, service financial documents show. An RB-S Defender-class response boat patrolling near Mar-a-Lago costs $1,434 an hour to run, or about $34,400 a day.

When President Barack Obama flew to south Florida for a weekend in 2013, the Coast Guard spent about $586,000 to patrol waterways and cover official travel and lodging costs, according to a Government Accountability Office report last year.

When the president is in town, the Coast Guard also establishes three wide-ranging “security zones” along the Palm Beach shorelines and in the nearby Lake Worth Lagoon, which are guarded by gunboat.

The Coast Guard’s budget is only a fraction of the government money spent toward protecting the president’s estate. Palm Beach County spends more than $60,000 a day toward overtime for deputies and other costs when the president is in town, local-government officials said.

The Secret Service has also faced an additional budgetary strain. The agency requested $60 million in funding on top of its traditional budget for the next year to help pay for the travel of the president and top-ranking officials, as well as the protection of the Trump family’s private home in Trump Tower, according to internal documents reviewed by the Post.

The Coast Guard post near Palm Beach traditionally focuses on other missions across south Florida and the Caribbean, including rescuing stranded boaters, securing ports and intercepting drug runners, the service says.