A noted maritime attorney out of Portland today painted a very encouraging picture for those trying to stop the Coast Guard from pulling their air rescue helicopter out of Newport.
Attorney Mike Haglund said under federal law, the policies of the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Department of Homeland Security, what the guard did by merely announcing a departure date from Newport, without any explanation or going through required procedures, was illegal. Haglund said the guard violated federal statutes dealing with Homeland Security provisions, the National Environmental Policy Act and under its own policies to protect the public.
Haglund said that the request for an injunction against the Coast Guard action at the Newport Airport will take the better part of a week to ten days to play out. He said copies of legal papers requesting the injunction will be forwarded to the U.S. Attorney in Portland. The U.S. Attorney will be compelled to respond promptly and appear in federal court in Eugene during the week of December 7th to answer complaints by those bringing the lawsuit: Newport Fishermen’s Wives, the Port of Newport, the City of Newport, Lincoln County Commission and the North Lincoln Fire Protection District.
Haglund said he feels confident that the court will take very seriously the complaints addressing the criteria for winning an immediate injunction in federal court:
1) That the complaints will likely prove true and prevail on their merits in a trial.
2) That when the Coast Guard was placed under the Department of Homeland Security it’s primary mission of search and rescue was to continue and not be degraded, which it will be if the Newport base closure order stands.
3) That there will be irreparable harm done by the action of the base closure which is well documented in light of what a resultling two hour rescue window will do to people in the cold waters off the Oregon Coast. Rescue missions will often become body retrieval operations.
4) That the loss of human life that such an action will cause overrides the Coast Guard’s desire to save money. Haglund says a clear assessment under the court’s provision of a “balance of hardship” favors keeping the helo base open.
Haglund went into detail about the provisions of the Federal National Environmental Policy Act and how it will play a big part in courtroom testimony. Haglund said that local, state and federal government agencies, including the Coast Guard, must justify major actions or changes of levels of service to the environment, of which human beings are a part. Haglund said this is not the first time that the Coast Guard has been sued in court for failing to fulfill the requirements of NEPA. Haglund says the Coast Guard Commandant has provided no information, returned no phone calls and made no comments beyond what was included in the short letter to local Lincoln County governments that the Coast Guard is leaving. The only other communication was the postponement of the base closure until December 15th.
Haglund said if ordered by the court to follow NEPA and Homeland Security provisions, the process of investigating everything associated with the base closure would take up to 9 months, which would give the Oregon Congressional Delegation enough time to turn things around, budget-wize, for the Coast Guard so it can no longer justify the closure of the base. The South Carolina Congressional delegation is also trying to stop the Coast Guard from closing a base on their coast.
So, to sum up, everyone is expected to be in federal court in Eugene the week of December 7th. Haglund says Judge Michael McShane knows that the Coast Guard has a self-imposed December 15th deadline to close the helo base, so he expects Judge McShane will waste little time in making a ruling on whether to order the Coast Guard to back off and do it’s homework while the Oregon delegation in Washington continues to do their homework on the federal budget.