South Carolina lawmakers and members of Congress from Oregon have joined in calling on the U.S. Coast Guard to keep facilities in their respective states from closing next month.
Senators Tim Scott, R-SC, Lindsey Graham, R-SC, Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Representatives Mark Sanford, R-S.C., Tom Rice, R-S.C., Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., signed the letter urging the Coast Guard to reverse its abrupt announcement from October that it would close facilities in Charleston, South Carolina and Newport, Oregon. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, also signed the letter.
The helicopter stationed at Air Facility Charleston is one of five that are based out of Air Station Savannah in Georgia. The Coast Guard had planned to reassign the vehicle as part of sequestration cuts. If finalized, any air rescue operations along the South Carolina coast must be flown out of Savannah, including operations off Myrtle Beach roughly 200 miles away.
The letter stated: “We believe that the United States Coast Guard’s decision to close air facilities in Newport, Oregon and Charleston, South Carolina would needlessly endanger mariners in our respective states and we urge you to prevent the Coast Guard from doing so,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. While the Coast Guard claims that it will still be able to meet the national standard of 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.
Senator Scott told South Carolina Radio Network that the delegation is working hard to keep the stations open. “We are very hopeful that the work with the delegation will prove to be fruitful, ultimately the definition of fruitful of course is keeping it open. The Coast Guard had originally planned to close the station on Johns Island on November 30, but commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft agreed to a two-week delay while lawmakers found a way to keep the stations open.
Scott said the delay means more time to find money to keep the station open permanently. “We’re hopeful that the Coast Guard’s commitment to delay the closure to December 15th is an indication that they are working with us.” Scott said
“While we strongly support efforts to spend federal dollars more efficiently, we cannot support budget cuts that needlessly jeopardize the lives of our constituents. We therefore urge you to reevaluate the Coast Guard’s decision and to prevent the Coast Guard from closing these air facilities,” the letter added.
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. Newport houses National Oceanic and Atmospheric vessels and Oregon’s largest commercial fishing fleet, in addition to research vessels from Oregon State University.