Newport Coast Guard chopper gets a reprieve

FILE - This Feb. 13, 2012 file photo shows a U.S. Coast Guard HH-65C Dolphin helicopter flying along the beach in Hallandale Beach, Fla. Fishermen rescued off the Oregon coast by a helicopter dispatched out of the Newport, Ore., Coast Guard base that's slated to close Dec. 15 say the $6 million that would be saved is not worth the lives of fishermen. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

GRANTS PASS (AP) — The U.S. Coast Guard helicopter base in Newport will remain open for the next year.

Democratic members of the Oregon delegation announced Wednesday that they were able to attach a provision to the Coast Guard authorization bill that passed the House and Senate.

It prohibits the Coast Guard from closing any air base that was operating Nov. 30. The prohibition is good through Jan. 1, 2016. It also applies to the helicopter base in Charleston, South Carolina, that had also been slated to close. The Coast Guard will have to find the money in its existing budget.

The two bases had been slated to close on Monday to save $6 million a year each. The Coast Guard had said it would be able to meet its rescue obligations with helicopters from neighboring bases, but response times would be longer.

“That helicopter is such a necessity out there and I am very happy they were able to save it for at least another year or so,” said Kelly Madden, who was skipper of the fishing boat Blazer when it sank last month off Newport. Some of his crew was rescued by the Newport-based helicopter. “I can’t believe this is a topic we are discussing - taking a piece of safety equipment away.”

Members of the Oregon delegation said in a statement they would continue fighting to keep the Newport air station open.

“The Coast Guard will continue to provide search and rescue coverage with assets from throughout the region, advanced technologies, and highly trained crews who are always on call to protect mariners,” Coast Guard spokesman Chad Saylor said in a statement from Washington, D.C., that noted the legislation.

Meanwhile, a group of wives of Newport fishermen was in federal court for a hearing on their lawsuit. The lawsuit argues that closing the Newport Air Station violates the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which prohibits the Coast Guard from cutting back its mission. It also contends the National Environmental Policy Act requires the Coast Guard to do a formal assessment of a closure’s impacts on public safety and potential oil spills.

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