Washington – Working together to prevent the closure of lifesaving air facilities in Newport, Oregon and in Charleston, South Carolina, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tim Scott (R-SC) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) today applauded inclusion of language in the final Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015 that now heads to the President for signature.
The bill, which passed the Senate in December and the House earlier this month, ensures neither region loses current search-and-rescue capability for at least the next two years, and puts severe restrictions on closing the facilities after that.
Following the U.S. Coast Guard’s abrupt announcement in October 2014 that it would close the air facilities in Newport and Charleston, this bipartisan group of senators began working to secure continued operation. While the Coast Guard originally claimed that it will still be able to meet a two-hour search-and-rescue response time, the lawmakers argue that fewer assets could lengthen response times and threaten the safety of local mariners.
With thousands of Oregonians and South Carolinians often risking their health and safety in unpredictable waters, it was vital that there be search-and-rescue teams that can arrive on-scene quickly.
“This success recognizes the vital importance of the Coast Guard to Newport, the Oregon Coast and coastal communities around the country,” Wyden said. “I’ll never stop fighting to protect the lives of Oregon Coast residents and visitors and I’ll keep working to ensure the safety of people working and recreating in the cold waters of the Pacific.”
“Losing the Newport Coast Guard helicopter would put lives at risk all along the Oregon coast. In the cold waters off our shores, people in harm’s way don’t have the luxury of waiting an hour or more for rescue. The Newport community deserves tremendous credit for their tenacity and determination in fighting for the helicopter and keeping their residents and visitors safe. It’s great news that the Newport helicopter will continue to be there as a lifesaving resource, and I’ll keep fighting to make sure that it always is,” said Senator Merkley.
Newport houses National Oceanic and Atmospheric vessels and Oregon’s largest commercial fishing fleet, in addition to research vessels from Oregon State University.
“Losing the Air Facility Charleston and its search-and-rescue helicopter would have serious effects on one of our nation’s critical port cities and adversely impact the safety of mariners, residents and tourists in the Lowcountry,” said Senator Scott. “Working with my Senate colleagues, we were able to ensure that before the US Coast Guard closes facilities – not just the ones they were looking at in South Carolina and Oregon – they do serious due diligence and strongly understand the affects their decision would have on public safety in a region. The facility in Charleston provides important safety and economic benefits to South Carolinians and those in the region. I plan to keep working with my Congressional colleagues and the Coast Guard to explore options that will keep the Air Facility Charleston operational.”
“I’m very pleased that before the Coast Guard is able to close these facilities they must take their time and fully study the impact their decision will have on public safety,” said Graham. “I know the Charleston facility provides an important public safety service to both business and recreational mariners who sometimes need emergency assistance. In these situations, minutes can literally be the difference between life and death. I fear losing the Air Facility Charleston would have a negative impact on operations at one of America’s most critical ports and leading coastal communities.”
Charleston is one of the nation’s busiest cargo ports, and is home to a robust tourism industry as well as large shrimp, crab and oyster fleets.