Thursday, 05 March 2015 16:38
By Larry Coonrod
NEWPORT—The Newport Fishermen’s Wives carried the fight to save the Newport Coast Guard helicopter straight to Capitol Hill this week.
Fishermen’s Wives President Jennifer Stevens and board member Ginny Goblirsch talked with Coast Guard officials and staffers for Oregon’s congressional delegation.
“The issue is well known on Capitol Hill,” Goblirsch said from D.C. Wednesday.
Goblirsch and Stevens met with the directors of the Coast Guard’s search and rescue, aircraft deployment and public affairs departments.
Stevens and Goblirsch made the case that the national two-hour response time used to justify conducting central coast aerial search and rescue from North Bend or Astoria isn’t realistic in the cold Northwest waters.
Moreover, local first responders will not enter the water for near shore rescues without a helicopter standing by to back them up, Goblirsch and Stevens pointed out.
“They were really interested in what we had to say and we had a fairly long discussion about the conditions in Newport,” Goblirsch said. “I just felt like we were finally being heard for the first time.”
The Pacific Northwest Waterways Association helped facilitate the meetings.
Coast Guard “Blown Away”
Public opposition to the Coast Guard’s Oct. 2, 2014 announcement that it planned to close the Newport air station was swift and widespread. More than 18,000 people signed petitions urging the Coast Guard to reverse the decision.
Hundreds more packed a Town Hall at Oregon Coast Community College to make the case directly to the admiral in command of the Pacific Northwest helicopters. The backlash did not go unnoticed by top Coast Guard officials.
“They are totally blown away by the community response. We wouldn’t even be having these discussions if that hadn’t had happened,” Goblirsch said. That criticism was directed at a policy decision and not the men and women uniform did not go unnoticed, either.
“That meant a lot to them and they told us that,” Goblirsch said. “And they’ve come to understand how much Newport cares about the Coast Guard and how closely we work with the Coast Guard.”
DeFazio at the Wheel
Congress in December passed legislation prohibiting the Coast Guard from closing the Newport station before Jan. 1, 2016. What happens afterward is still an open question.
Goblirsch reported that staffers for Oregon’s seven-person Congressional delegation expressed their bosses’ commitment to making the Newport air station a permanent asset. The opening salvo came at a subcommittee appropriations hearing last week. Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Eugene) is the subcommittee’s ranking Democrat.
Goblirsch said DeFazio wants to ensure not only funding for the helicopter, but language in the law that prevents budget considerations from negatively affecting the Coast Guard’s core search and rescue mission.
“DeFazio is at the wheel right now,” she said.
Station’s Fate Still up in the Air
The outcome of the effort to save the Newport helicopter will not likely be known until late summer or fall when the appropriation process continues. Still, after hearing from the Coast Guard and elected representatives, Goblirsch said she is confident the helicopter will remain in Newport.
“I think the community has done a really good job and because of that I think we will be successful,” she said.