After many months of work and the expenditure of nearly ten million dollars, a much upgraded Newport Airport runway system was officially dedicated and re-opened this week.
It was quite a good return on the city’s investment – less than a million in city money and other resources got them nearly $9 million more from the Federal Aviation Administration. The project completely renovated both primary runways, new electronics to aid in take offs and landings, upgraded storm drains, runway lighting and signage.
Mayor Sandra Roumagoux and several other dignitaries cut the ceremonial ribbon to officially re-open the airport to normal traffic. It was quite a trick for Fed Ex to keep their package delivery service going there for a while – basically flying packages into Corvallis with a quick truck run to Newport for continued distribution around the county.
Lots of dignitaries surrounded the podium, including a uniformed member of NOAA who was quick to point out he was NOT from the Coast Guard.
At the end of the dedication a few speakers reminded the gathering that the Admiral of Coast Guard District 13 (Seattle) and local Coast Guard Commanders will take part in what is sure to be a very contentious Town Hall Meeting Monday night at the Newport Campus of Oregon Coast Community College. The gathering crowd is expected to hear again that the Coast Guard’s need to trim its budget includes closing their Oregon Coast Air Rescue unit based at Newport. In addition, the Coast Guard will be going from 5 rescue helicopters down to three, with one back-up.
Thus far Coast Guard officials have only offered the explanation that they’ve been ordered to trim budgets, six million of which will be saved by closing down the Newport operation. They say that with the advent of advanced survival suits and personal satellite locator beacons, rescuers will spend less time looking for survivors and be better able to more quickly return them to dry land.
Those who sail for a living, as well as many coastal residents, recoil in disbelief that such words could even come from the mouths of Coast Guard officials. Fishermen know that even those who work wearing survival suits can be knocked or swept overboard and that their survival time in the water would be far less than the time required for a Coast Guard helicopter to reach them based on just two choppers available for the whole central coast. The situation is even worse for recreational fishing boats that may toss civilian charter fishing customers into the water without a survival suit on at all and be dead in 20 minutes. A recent rescue of five such victims occurred off Depoe Bay with one person nearly dying – and that was with a helicopter arriving on scene in mere minutes. Same for the rescue of five young adults recently from extremely high surf at Fogarty Creek – waves starting to top the rock they clung to. A Newport-based helo saved the day in that rescue operation as well.
The only theory that locals have come up with that might explain the Coast Guard’s dismissive attitude toward their erosion of service levels, is that the decision to cut back was made in Washington DC – far away from the hurricane force winds and the mountainous seas off the Oregon, Washington and Alaskan coasts. “They just don’t know what the conditions are here in Oregon,” they say. “We have no 80, 70, or even 60 degree water temperatures off our shores. It’s downright cold all year long. Survival times are short at all times!” They also point out that cold water upwellings from the frigid sea floor, that brings up nutrients for fish to feed on, is what makes the fishing so great. But it can also kill quickly.
The town hall meeting begins at 5:30pm, Monday night, at Oregon Coast Community College.
Meanwhile congressional aides in Washington continue to tell local news media that the Oregon members of the U.S. House and Senate are still negotiating with the Coast Guard in an effort to get them to delay their final decision until other rescue resource management arrangements can we worked out.