Federal lawsuit against the Coast Guard: Filing Tuesday to stop the December 15 closure of the Helo Air Rescue Station in Newport
News Conference – public invited: Newport City Hall, City Council Chambers
Fishermen’s Wives, Lincoln County, the City of Newport, and the Port of Newport have joined in a lawsuit to stop the Coast Guard from closing down their air rescue helicopter facility at the Newport Airport. They’re filing the request for an injuction tomorrow, Tuesday, in Federal Court in Eugene.
The lawsuit will ask a federal judge to put a hold on the closure until the Coast Guard goes through all the legal steps required before they can take such action. The lawsuit adds that one of those steps is to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that takes into account all the impacts that such a base closure would create – something the Coast Guard has not done. In short, a letter to the community saying goodbye doesn’t cut it.
Unless otherwise exempted, the Coast Guard must comply with the NEPA requirements. Fishermen’s Wives attorney Michael Haglund, a well known maritime attorney in Portland says, this is not the first time the Coast Guard has been caught trying to cut corners on an important decision. He says the only exemption from complying with NEPA is if it’s specifically stated in an appropriations bill, which does not exist in this case.
Haglund says there are hundreds of legal cases in which the Forest Service, the BLM, the military and other federal agencies, have been stopped from taking certain actions because to do so would violate NEPA provisions. Haglund says he fully expects the federal judge to issue a court order to cease facility shutdown proceedings until the NEPA requirements are fulfilled and fulfilled properly. Haglund added that the process would take at least six months which will allow enough time for Oregon’s Congressional Delegation to take the situation to Congress and find the money to keep the base open. A similar request is being sought by the state of South Carolina which is also protesting a similar closure of a Coast Guard facility on its coast.
Many Central Coast communities have protested the impending shut down of the helo station. Anyone falling overboard from a commercial or charter fishing boat, from a cliff or simply swept out in a rip current would face a near-certain death sentence because of the time it takes for a Coast Guard motor lifeboat to get to them. Without the air rescue capabilities which can pluck victims from the cold waters off the Oregon Coast, or to lower a water pump down to a leaking vessel to keep it afloat until it reaches port, lives and property would be lost as a matter of routine. Insurance rates for fishermen and other marine related activities would rise substantially in light of a near-complete abandonment of the Coast Guard’s rapid response mission to protect the coast and all those who live along it or make their living just offshore.
These and other points would have to be evaluated and proper attention paid to them before an agency could act on a closure as contemplated by the Coast Guard.
The filing of the request for an injunction against the Coast Guard will occur Tuesday morning at the Federal Courthouse in Eugene, followed by a news conference at the Newport City Council chambers Tuesday afternoon at 1pm.