Here’s the shiny nuts and bolts in the legislation to keep the Newport Coast Guard Helo Station open for a very long time…
Early in the week Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley told the Oregon Coast that it’s all over – including the shouting – about keeping the Coast Guard’s search and rescue helicopter in Newport. And that the legislation providing for that also includes provisions that will make any efforts to close it down ultimately fail. In short, it’ll stay open as long as clouds rain, sun shines and wind blows.
Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio has made public the conditions in that legislation that would have to be met before anyone can come even close to shutting it down. The provisions reflect common sense, acknowledgement of basic arithmetic in calculating flight times to rescue sites and the importance of a generally secure area in which commercial and other important fishing activities can continue to thrive.
Here are the conditions that should, for a long time, prevent the shock and agonizing that Fishermen’s Wives and the public in general endured when “someone” up the chain of command in the Coast Guard decided that saving a few bucks (relatively speaking) was more important than human lives.
From the office of Congressman Peter DeFazio:
The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015 authorizes Coast Guard and Federal Maritime Commission funding levels for two years. It includes provisions to improve Coast Guard mission effectiveness, help modernize the Service’s aging vessels and other assets, and reforms U.S. maritime transportation laws.
The final Newport Coast Guard air facility language was agreed to during negotiations with the Senate Commerce Committee and that language was included in the updated Coast Guard Authorization Act (H.R. 4188). The Act was introduced earlier this week in the House of Representatives. H.R. 4188 was passed and is now on its way to the Senate for considerations.
H.R. 4188 prohibits the closure of any Coast Guard facility for two additional years until January 1, 2018. After that date, the Coast Guard may only close an air facility…
* IF the Secretary of Homeland Security submits to Congress plans to continue to offer adequate protection to our coasts as they retire and replace outdated helicopters.
* IF the Secretary can clearly demonstrate that remaining search and rescue capabilities will maintain the safety of the public in the area and that
weather and marine conditions, including water temperatures and unusual tides, do not justify continued operation of the air facility and that
standard search and rescue response times will continue to be met.
* IF the Secretary convenes public meetings in communities in the air facility’s service area to allow for public input on any proposed closure.
* IF a decision is made to close the facility, prior to its closure or even a reduction in services, the Secretary must submit to Congress in the President’s budget request any proposal for closure, cessation, or reductions in operations. (The Coast Guard’s parent agency, Homeland Security last year tried to close the helo operation on its own.)
* Once the budget request is submitted, the Coast Guard has 7 days to provide explicit written notice to Congress. (Last year’s Homeland Security move to close the facility was done completely behind closed doors.)
Newport is home to one of Oregon’s three deep draft ports, the state’s largest grossing commercial fishing fleet, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Operations Center, Oregon State University research personnel and vessels, and a robust recreational and sport fishing industry that is critical to the local economy.
The Oregon delegation successfully passed legislation last year that prevented closure and will keep the U.S. Coast Guard’s air facility at Newport open through January 1, 2016. However, additional Congressional action is necessary to ensure the air facility in Newport is maintained in 2016 and beyond.
The U.S. Senate is expected to approve that extension, along with strict requirements before any future move for closure can be considered. President Obama is expected to sign it into law soonafter passage by the Senate.