Coast Guard Helo: Federal judge to take two weeks to rule on request to keep Newport Coast Guard Helicopter case alive
A federal judge in Eugene Monday morning listened to both sides in the legal battle between Fishermen’s Wives and the Coast Guard and will take up to two weeks to decide whether the Wive’s case against the Coast Guard should be cancelled or simply put on the shelf, ready to re-activate if the Coast Guard tries again to close the Newport Helicopter base.
Wive’s attorney Michael Haglund argued that the Coast Guard has shown no sign that it intends to back away from the closure, effective the first of the year, in that the closure remains a line-item in the Coast Guard’s national budget for 2016. The Coast Guard disagreed, claiming that the 2016 budget is a mere “carry forward” copy of the 2014 budget because of federal budget issues in Washington DC. The Congress recently banned the closure of the base until the first of the year to give time for an investigation to shed more light on the situation.
Haglund argued that there is a legally compelling reason to keep the Wive’s case active in that it’s still not clear what the Coast Guard’s intentions really are. He told the judge, per court policy, that as long as it doesn’t cost the court or those filing the case any money, the court should rule keeping the case ready in the wings is reasonable. Haglund also cited a couple of recent court cases where federal judges held cases in abeyance until further developments had time to play out rather than wiping the slate clean and making both sides have to start from scratch – something that would be an extreme hardship on Fishermen’s Wives and others.
Haglund, along with Lincoln County Counsel Wayne Belmont and Commissioner Terry Thompson all indicated that they are optimistic the judge will keep the case temporarily on the shelf, but ready for re-activation should the Coast Guard move to close the Newport Helo base later this year.
The courtroom in Eugene this morning was filled with Newport area supporters of Fishermen’s Wives including local government officials along with police, fire and search and rescue personnel who have argued that keeping the Newport Coast Guard helo base open is a matter of life and death for members of the Oregon commercial, charter and recreation fishing fleets as well as for loggers high in the mountains and for hundreds of thousands of visitors to the coast every year who get into trouble while surfing, swimming, beachcombing and hiking. While the Coast Guard contends a two hour rescue response time by their helicopters based in Astoria and Coos Bay is reasonable, Fishermen’s Wives and others point to the fact that such long response times, especially in cases of fishing emergencies well offshore, frequently become body retrieval operations, not rescues.