By this time next year, the Coast Guard Auxiliary hopes one corner of Marcus Hook will have become a bustling hub for local members to train, teach classes, patrol the waters, and more.
Marcus Hook officials, businesses, and politicians are collaborating with the auxiliary, a uniformed, all-volunteer branch whose members perform almost all of the tasks associated with the National Guard, to build a training facility on the edge of the Delaware River. The facility, which Coast Guard members are aiming to have completed by midsummer, will have room to hold boating safety and other classes for recruits, and the river will provide a site for training with the auxiliary's boats and floating piers.
"Having this here will help in a lot of ways," said Thomas Dever, commander of the auxiliary's Southeast Pennsylvania-based Division 4 and an architect in Glen Mills. "Having more people and activity on the waterfront will be good for the area. It's a way for us to be part of the community. And it's a great home base for our members."
Dever was one of many auxiliary members, politicians, officials, and members of the business community who gathered Thursday on the sunny bank of the Delaware River to launch construction of the project, funded by donations and volunteer labor from area unions.
On any given weekend, boaters, fishermen, and freighters might cross paths with members of the auxiliary, who are trained to take on all missions of the Coast Guard except law enforcement and military operations. That means they patrol the water and air regularly, assist in search and rescue missions or natural disasters, recruit for the Coast Guard, respond to environmental or pollution issues, and more.
"On the water, I'm happy if people think the auxiliary is the Coast Guard, and I'm happy if they see the Coast Guard and they think it's the auxiliary," said Capt. Kathleen Moore, who oversees the port at Delaware Bay in Philadelphia.
There are about 30,000 members of the auxiliary nationwide, several hundred of whom live in Delaware and Montgomery Counties. Up to this point, members have trained in a number of informal locations, Moore said. After a center in Delaware closed some years ago, members had to travel to Cape May for specialized training.
The new facility will be built behind the community center, next to a park and over an octagonal shed on the water's edge that houses seasonal decorations and other items.