By: Alex Wilson
The United States Coast Guard Air Facility in Newport will remain open through January 1, 2018 due to the Coast Guard Authorization Act. The Newport Air Facility has been up for closure for the last several years. The new legislation will mandate that the Coast Guard maintains the facility as well as all associated assets until the prescribed date at which time the facility will be eligible for closure, but the Coast Guard would have to jump over tremendous hurdles to do so.
The biggest of such hurdles would require that the Coast Guard proves that they can meet a similar response time by utilizing air assets located in North Bend and Astoria. Additionally, the Coast Guard must prove that these response times would be appropriate given the conditions of the Oregon Coast and the search and rescue (SAR) call volume experienced by the Newport Air Facility.
The Newport Air Facility utilizes one MH-65 “Dolphin” helicopter while Air Station North Bend utilizes four of the same airframe. Coast Guard Air Station Astoria utilizes three MH-60 “Jayhawk” helicopters. In addition to air stations, there are many lifeboat stations located along the Oregon Coast including Station Yaquina Bay which is also located in Newport. Although the lifeboats are responsible for saving countless lives each year, they do not have the speed of the helicopter and subsequent ability to quickly access SAR calls further out to sea which are common given the bustling fishing industry in Newport.
“It is impossible to overstate how critical having SAR helicopters nearby is to Oregon’s fishing industry, coastal visitors and residents,” said U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio in a written statement. DeFazio, along with Senator Jeff Merkley, Congressman Kurt Schrader, and Senator Ron Wyden have been fighting to save the facility since 2014.
Several community groups in Newport have been vocal in the fight as well. One step taken by the Fishermen’s Wives of Newport was the “#SaveTheHelo” campaign which gained momentous support from the fishing community, as well as the central Oregon Coast residential communities.