Coast Guard scours Snake River for buoy inspection - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Coast Guard scours Snake River for buoy inspection

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SNAKE RIVER, WA - When we think of the Coast Guard, most of us think 'search and rescue' or drug busts off shore. Reporter Jaclyn Selesky spent the day on one of their oldest ships and tells us that this branch of the military does much more than that.

"If you can think about your everyday driving on the highways, imagine if the sides of the roads were not well-marked and you couldn't see where the sides were," said David Throop, District 13 Admiral with the United States Coast Guard. "Or there was a large pothole in the road that wasn't marked. That's the same thing on the river system."

The Bluebell is a Coast Guard cutter ship. She was commissioned in 1945. Although she may have a few years on her, she's keeping our waterways safe.

"We're making sure that the buoys on the Snake River are in place and that they're in good shape," said Throop.

Buoy tending, that's what the 15 crew members aboard the Bluebell are spending the next 10 to 12 days doing.

"Buoys mark the sides as well as the center line or our channels," said Throop. "That's like the highway system here in the rivers. If there are obstructions like rocks, the buoys can mark those dangers as well."

The buoys can weigh anywhere from 1,000 pounds to 8,500 pounds. The crew gets them on deck and does a thorough inspection to make sure no chains have eroded and that everything is functional. This process isn't just for you fisherman or recreational boaters out there enjoying the river.

"The Snake and Columbia River systems [are] the largest exporter of grain in the United States," said Throop.

Those two rivers have a $24 billion impact on our country's economy.

"That's why it's so important what the Bluebell and our crew is today in order to make sure that those mariners are safe in getting their job done," said Throop.

So it's not just responding to emergencies or catching drug smugglers for the Coast Guard. You may not realize it, but the smallest of the five branches has a big mission.