Oregon Delegation Announces Deal to Save Newport Air Station

Washington, D.C. – Today, members of Oregon’s Congressional Delegation announced they have secured a provision in the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015 that would keep the Newport air facility open for at least two years. Due to budget cuts, the Coast Guard threatened in 2014 to close the Newport air facility– which handles half of the emergency response calls on the Central Oregon Coast. Today’s announcement was made by Representatives Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader, along with Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley. As Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, DeFazio was the lead Democratic sponsor and negotiator in the House of Representatives on the Coast Guard Authorization Act. 

It is impossible to overstate how critical having search and rescue helicopters nearby is to Oregon’s fishing industry, coastal visitors and residents. Today, we were successful in securing language in the Coast Guard Authorization Act that will keep this critical air station—which handles half the emergency calls on the Central Oregon Coast—open and serving the Coast for at least another two years. After that, the Coast Guard will have to jump through significant additional hoops before attempting to close it again, essentially ensuring that the Coast Guard’s Newport Air Facility remains open for a long time to come. I commend my colleagues in both the House and Senate who helped craft this important legislation. I look forward to this bill passing the Senate and being signed into law,” said Ranking Member DeFazio. 

“Newport’s Coast Guard helicopter is a proven lifesaver for a huge stretch of the Oregon Coast. Congressman DeFazio, Senator Merkley, Congressman Schrader and I fought hard to preserve this crucial part of the coastal safety net and are relieved Congress won’t risk Oregonians’ lives at the start of the dangerous winter season and beyond,” said Senator Wyden.

“Losing the Newport Coast Guard helicopter would put lives at risk all along the Oregon coast. In the cold waters off our shores, people in harm’s way don’t have the luxury of waiting an hour or more for rescue. The Newport community deserves tremendous credit for their tenacity and determination in fighting for the helicopter and keeping their residents and visitors safe. It’s great news that the Newport helicopter will continue to be there as a lifesaving resource, and I’ll keep fighting to make sure that it always is,” said Senator Merkley. 

“Maintaining strong search and rescue capabilities is crucial to the safety of our commercial fishermen, recreational tourists, and coastal residents. Passage of this bill will extend prohibition on the closure of the Newport AIRFAC for at least an additional two years and make it very difficult to close after that by putting in place stringent requirements for the Coast Guard to meet should they ever consider closing it again. Under these rigorous new requirements, I am confident the Newport AIRFAC will continue to serve our Oregon coastal communities for years to come,” said Congressman Schrader. “I commend the Newport Fishermen’s Wives and all the supporters of the Newport AIRFAC for their tireless efforts to preserve the helo for the Central Oregon Coast.  I also want to thank Congressman DeFazio who has worked hard to ensure this provision made it into the final bill and I look forward to its swift passage.”

The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015 authorizes Coast Guard and Federal Maritime Commission funding levels for two years, and includes provisions to improve Coast Guard mission effectiveness, help modernize the Service’s aging vessels and other assets, and reform U.S. maritime transportation laws.  The House version of the bill (H.R. 1987) was introduced by Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA), along with Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA), Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Ranking Member John Garamendi (D-CA). The final air facility language was agreed to during negotiations with the Senate Commerce Committee and included in an updated Coast Guard Authorization Act (H.R. 4188) that was introduced earlier this week.  Today the House passed H.R. 4188 and it will now be considered in the Senate.

That language included in H.R. 4188 extends the prohibition on the closure of any Coast Guard facility for two additional years until January 1, 2018. After that date, the Coast Guard may only close an air facility if:

  1. The Secretary of Homeland Security submits to Congress plans to continue to offer adequate protection to our coasts as they retire and replace outdated helicopters. 
  2. The Secretary can clearly demonstrate that:
    • remaining search and rescue capabilities will maintain the safety of the public in the area; 
    • weather and marine conditions, including water temperatures and unusual tides, do not require continued operation of the air facility; and 
    • standard search and rescue response times will continue to be met;
  3. The Secretary convenes public meetings in communities in the air facility’s service area to allow for public input on any proposed closure; and
  4. Prior to closure or a reduction in services, the Secretary must submit to Congress in the President’s budget request any proposal for closure, cessation, or reductions in operations.  Once the budget request is submitted, the Coast Guard has 7 days to provide explicit written notice to Congress.

    Newport is home to one of Oregon’s three deep draft ports, the state’s largest grossing commercial fishing fleet, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Operations Center, Oregon State University research personnel and vessels, and a robust recreational and sport fishing industry that is critical to the local economy.

    The Oregon delegation successfully passed legislation last year that prevented closure and will keep the U.S. Coast Guard’s air facility at Newport open through January 1, 2016.  However, additional Congressional action is necessary to ensure the air facility in Newport is maintained in 2016 and beyond.