Coast Guard putting Newport in competition with Astoria for placement of new Coast Guard patrol cutters.
As reported some months ago in News Lincoln County, the Coast Guard is in the process of upgrading their fleet of coastal security patrol craft. They’re going from 110 foot patrol vessels to the latest versions that are 154 feet in length, are faster and are far more heavily armed.
The Coast Guard has asked the Port of Astoria and the Port of Newport to compete for the prize of becoming Oregon’s home port for these dramatically upsized and far more capable new ships. The Coast Guard is eyeing berthing for two FAST Response Cutters at the NOAA MOC-P Headquarters in South Beach. The Coast Guard’s communications with the port reveal the creation of 50 to 70 new jobs for the community and which would diversify federal holdings within the NOAA installation.
Port Manager Kevin Greenwood says the Coast Guard is in the process of going through all the environmental assessments associated with the possible location of the two large ships at the NOAA facility. He said it is the intention of the Coast Guard to have those assessments completed quickly and a decision on which city will be invited to host the new vessels by late April.
Since the new FAST Response Cutters are supposed to be “fast,” it has triggered some community dialog as to whether these shiny new vessels could fill the search and rescue “gap” that many contend would be created if the Coast Guard continues with its intended shutting down of the Newport Helicopter Search and Rescue Base. Despite statements from Coast Guard brass in Washington DC that the issue is no longer directly on the table, budgetary savings from the shut-down remain in the Coast Guard’s FY 2015-16 budget now before Congress, according to Oregon’s congressional delegation and Newport Fishermen’s Wives, who have lobbied hard to preserve the base.
Looking closely at the new ships’ ability to respond in a search and rescue operation, the new FAST Response Cutters are really no faster than the 46′ Coast Guard Motorlifeboats based in Newport that the Coast Guard has been using for years. According the Coast Guard’s own specifications sheets on the new cutters, it shows a top speed of around 32 miles an hour, just two miles an hour faster than a typical smaller motorlifeboat. Of course a larger vessel would be able to maintain a higher speed in heavier seas. But even at 25 miles an hour, the response time of a new cutter enroute to a life-threatening emergency would still be too late to save lives if a fishing boat crew was in the water more than 20 miles out because death comes much quicker for someone bobbing about in those frigid waters without survival gear – which occurs often because fishing boat crewmen can’t do their job wearing survival gear. It’s something they put on AFTER an emergency erupts. And, depending on the access to the gear or the time to put it on, and getting a life raft in the water, sometimes just isn’t possible. Therefore response times in the “under twenty minute” range are usually required in order to save lives.
In short, we’re back to helicopter rescues. The cutters offer no measurable response advantage unless they just happen to be in the area on general patrol – not exactly a comforting situation for fishing families or for recreation fishermen.
Fishermen’s Wives advocate and former Port of Newport Commission President Ginny Goblirsch told News Lincoln County that the new cutters in no way would be able to bridge the life-and-death safety gap that would be created if the Coast Guard closes its Newport Helicopter Search and Rescue Facility at the Newport Airport. The answer, she says, is to keep it open – period.
And on that front Goblirsch says the wheels of government are churning in Washington DC with a clear request that the Coast Guard’s budget be supplemented with funds to keep the Newport facility open. She says the message has been delivered loud and clear and is a high priority for Oregon Senators Wyden and Merkley and Congressmen Schrader, Fazio and others. She says she expects good news when the Coast Guard’s budget is approved later this summer. She said the Oregon Coast has powerful congressional allies from South Carolina which is also fighting the closure of what many there call even minimal Coast Guard Search and Rescue Operations off their coast.