Thursday, October 30, 2014

Coast Guard puts off Oregon search and rescue base closing; Charleston still a question

 The U.S. Coast Guard might be close to budging on plans to remove a search and rescue helicopter and shutter a base on the Stono River. A similar base in Newport, Ore., just won a reprieve.

The legislative delegation from that state announced Thursday that the Coast Guard commandant agreed to delay closing that base until Dec. 15, to "allow for a more extensive and thorough discussion of the risks to recreational fishing, commercial fishing and other activities" along the coast near the busy Columbia River delta, according to a delegation news release.

The agreement came after delegation members held a press conference with fishing and emergency response personnel calling for the service to reverse the closing decision, the release said.

Whatever is or isn't happening with South Carolina delegation members is being kept low key and largely under wraps.

Sen. Tim Scott's office had no comment to add to an earlier statement saying the senator "continues to work closely with the South Carolina and Oregon delegations to explore options, including possible legislative remedies or remedies the Coast Guard can immediately implement themselves," said spokesman Sean Conner.

A statement from Sen. Lindsey Graham was not provided by deadline.

The Dec. 15 date is significant because it is after the election and three days after the scheduled expiration of a Congressional continuing resolution that funds the military at current levels.

The Coast Guard has scheduled Air Facility Charleston to close Nov. 30. The Johns Island facility closing is a cost-cutting move, the service's pointed response to a federal budget sequestration compromise that calls for mandatory spending cuts each year.

The cost savings is $6 million, a tiny fraction of the service's nearly $15 billion budget.

The maritime community in the Lowcountry was stunned to hear that a port where tens of thousands of pleasure and commercial craft travel each year would be left without a vital search-and-rescue helicopter.

"We are very concerned that our safety and that of other mariners has become an expendable line item. As pilots, we board ships 15 miles offshore 4,500 times a year," said Julia Bennett, Charleston Branch Pilots' Association corporate affairs manager.

"Losing a helicopter that's only 15 minutes away, and instead relying on a helicopter 80 miles away that's now covering twice the coastline, is a major degradation to the Coast Guard's lifesaving mission here," she said.

With the base closing, the helicopter stationed on Johns Island would return temporarily to Savannah but eventually be reassigned elsewhere. That station would be cut back to three helicopters for rescue missions from mid-Florida to the North Carolina line - a move that piles critical minutes onto response times to emergency calls.

The U.S. Marine Corps also has protested the move, which is taking place as the Beaufort air station begins training Marine pilots to fly the new F-35B Joint Strike Fighters. The Beaufort air station closed its search and rescue unit in 2004, turning over the job to the Coast Guard.

- Source:

No comments:

Post a Comment