One by one, whether from organizations or speaking only for themselves, residents continued to demand Monday night during a Town Hall Meeting at Oregon Coast Community College that the Coast Guard radically change course on their plans for the Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Base in Newport. They said firmly and consistently, “DON’T CLOSE IT.” Many predicted that deaths will rise and the coastal economy will suffer if the Coast Guard pulls out, leaving only two choppers, one in Astoria, the other in Coos Bay, to respond to emergencies along the chronically storm-tossed central coast.
The biggest factor is cold ocean temperatures which can kill in a matter of minutes. Despite the Coast’s Guard’s boasting of upgraded locational electronics and advances in survival suits, most of those who go overboard or find themselves in the water from a sinking, they have neither. Especially civilian charter fishing boats as one charter boat capsized this past summer off Depoe Bay throwing five people in the water, one nearly dying of hypothermia. And that was with the Newport Coast Guard chopper getting on scene in a matter of minutes…not in a little under an hour as will be the case if the Newport base is closed.
The Coast Guard Admiral from Seattle told the crowd that he has standing orders to close the base. And if those orders hold, he will do it.
Fishermen’s Wives produced a petition asking the Coast Guard to reconsider, signed by over 18,000 people. “And they’re still coming in,” said one Fishermen’s Wives member. Even a contingent of tree fallers who work deep in the woods testified that when a logger gets hurt hours from any hospital, the Coast Guard swoops in and saves lives that otherwise would be lost.
Local fire-rescue departments, including Lincoln City, Depoe Bay, Newport, Seal Rock and others, strongly urged the Coast Guard to examine the facts and those facts will compel them to withdraw the closure order. Many in the crowd said that the Coast Guardsmen themselves, who bravely work to save lives, are still near and dear to the hearts of all coastal residents – that their anger is not not directed at those who do the heavy lifting. It’s the brass, they say, in Washington DC who have no clue what life is like on the coast of the Pacific Northwest and that they ought to do a little homework before they move to close the base. If they close the base, many believe the Coast Guard will be signing death warrants on fathers, sons, husbands, wives, grandfathers and grandmothers who make their living on the sea as well as unwary visitors to the coast from Portland and other inland cities, those seeking wholesome recreation – not a quick death while on vacation.
The Coast Guard Admiral and others commented that the Oregon Congressional Delegation is negotiating with top Coast Guard officials in Washington, so far centering on postponing the closure until the Coast Guard can develop other strategies for cutting costs, if that is, in truth, what’s really needed. Others, both inside and outside the town hall meetings have complained that there always seems to be money for millions upon millions of dollars for pet projects back home for congressmen and senators yet in this case, in matters of life and death, the government is choosing death for commercial and recreation fishermen, pleasure boaters, and anyone who visits the Oregon Coast. Some have noted the cruel irony in that the Coast Guard plans to withdraw their helicopter during the first week of the crabbing season just as crabbers begin sailing off into what can quickly become howling gales and mountainous seas – the deadliest time of year. Without the helo, they will be largely out there on their own.
The Admiral noted that the town hall meeting was being video taped so higher-ups in Washington can see the see the magnitude of the turn-out by those opposed to the closure.
So…we’re back to waiting to see what the Oregon Congressional Delegation can come up with.
Nothing has change.