Fishermen’s Wives attorney responds to Coast Guard claims that the helicopter is not needed in Newport
Fishermen’s Wives attorney Michael Haglund has filed his clients’ rebuttal to the Coast Guard’s allegations that they have done their homework to justify the closure of the Coast Guard Air Facility at Newport.
But first a review of the Coast Guard’s basic arguments for closure.
The Coast Guard contends the closure will have no effect on the safety of those along the central Oregon Coast – be they fishermen, boaters, swimmers or climbers.
The Coast Guard also claims the annual six million dollars spent to operate the air rescue facility in Newport can be better spent elsewhere. The Coast Guard also contends that when properly equipped, anyone falling or being swept overboard from a fishing or charter boat will be just fine in the water, in their survival suits, for at least two hours – long enough for Coast Guard helos to reach them from Astoria or Coos Bay. On top of that, the Coast Guard maintains there is no proof that there is any imminent danger of anyone else losing their life in the waters off the Central Coast – that just because people have died out there on the ocean doesn’t mean future deaths will occur due to the absence of the Newport helicopter.
As for allegations that they have not met the legal requirements in shutting down the helo facility, the Coast Guard says they have met those requirements by virtue of a legal device called “categorical exclusion” – basically claiming that there are no unique environmental, public safety or economic impacts stemming from the shut down. They say they simply don’t exist. Therefore no investigation is needed.
In his response to the above, Fishermen’s Wives Attorney Michael Haglund takes the Coast Guard to task on every one of their points. As for the categorical exclusion defense, Haglund contends that there is plenty of evidence that there are specific requirements through which the National Environmental Protection Act requires close scrutiny and that the removal of the Coast Guard Air Facility will harm the local economies along the Central Coast. It will also affect the personal safety of tourists who come here to recreate, some of whom inevitably will fall into harms way on boats, headlands and beaches. It will affect commercial fishermen who are swept overboard who are not wearing survival suits and who cannot survive more than 20 to 30 minutes in the chilly winter waters off the coast. A two hour helicopter response time prescribed by the Coast Guard as a “performance standard” is inadequate on its face, he says. 65 degree waters off South Carolina has no meaning off the coast of Oregon. Summertime off the Oregon Coast averages 52 to 58 degrees, and 47-52 in the winter. Both ranges kill – one a little faster than the other.
Haglund goes on to say, that without properly assessing the impacts of the removal of the Newport Air Facility, there can be no credibility in stating there are none.
Haglund says another problem with shutting down the Newport facility is the lack of quick response to assess environmental hazards from sinking vessels or other major sources of pollution that require quick response by the Coast Guard and other agencies. Haglund says the Coast Guard is arbitrarily and capriciously ignoring all of these obvious salient facts.
Haglund and the Coast Guard will go at it in Federal Court in Eugene on Thursday, 1pm in Judge McShane’s courtroom. Haglund is seeking a temporary injunction to forbid the Coast Guard from closing down the helo facility until they meet the requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act – which could produce enough homework for the Coast Guard brass to be tied up for 9 months or more.
In the meantime, the Congressional Delegations from Oregon and South Carolina (where another Coast Guard facility is targeted with closure) would work with the congressional budget committees to find the six million dollars a year to keep the Newport facility open. As one fishermen put it, “If they can find a quarter billion dollars in the Federal Budget to help rebuild Gaza, they can sure find six million to save our Coast Guard helicopter.”
The difference between life and death could not be more clear.