Oregon senators push back on $1.3 billion Coast Guard cuts

SOUTH COAST — Some United States senators — including Oregon’s U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden — intend to stand in the way of President Trump’s proposal to help pay for building a Mexican border wall by taking it out of U.S. Coast Guard coffers.

A press release on Thursday announced that the two were joining a bipartisan group, composed of 23 senators, urging Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney not to make the proposed $1.3 billion in cuts that amount to almost 12 percent of the service’s budget.

“We are concerned that the Coast Guard would not be able to maintain maritime presence, respond to individual and national emergencies, and protect our nation’s economic and environmental interests,” wrote the senators. “The proposed reduction … would directly contradict the priorities articulated by the Trump Administration.

“We urge you to restore the $1.3 billion cut to the Coast Guard budget, which we firmly believe would result in catastrophic negative impacts to the Coast Guard and its critical role in protecting our homeland, our economy and our environment.”

The World reached out to the Coast Guard for comment. Though not much can be said at this point, “the Coast Guard is engaging in discussions with the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Management and Budget,” said Public Information Officer Lisa Novak of Coast Guard Headquarters.

The Coast Guard’s commandant is scheduled to speak more about the issue on March 19.

Wyden and Merkley have a long history fighting to protect Oregon’s Coast Guard resources, “which are essential to Oregon’s security and to saving lives in the frigid water off the Oregon coast.”

In 2014, the Newport Coast Guard station and helicopter were threatened to be cut during budget talks.

“With the next-closest helicopters an hour away or more — time that can make the difference between life and death for commercial fishermen and others who rely on the Coast Guard’s services — the loss of the Newport helicopter would have had deadly consequences for Oregonians,” the release said.

Merkley and Wyden worked alongside Congressmen Peter DeFazio and Kurt Shrader to protect Newport’s services, as well as other Coast Guard helicopters.

 “But a fresh round of deep budget cuts could have devastating impacts in communities across the Oregon coast and the nation,” the release said.

In fact, the senators noted that Coast Guard funding has “already been allowed to slip well below the levels of necessary.”

Between 2010 and 2015, the service’s budget fell nearly 40 percent. Not only that, but the fleet’s cutters and patrol boats are aging at an unsustainable rate, “with no prospect of replacement.”

“The situation is particularly dire in the Arctic, where without adequate funding the U.S. will be without a heavy icebreaker for eight years — the only Arctic nation without the resource,” the release said.

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The $1.3 billion cut would also impact Coast Guard members and families. The service has reportedly struggled to keep up with other Armed Services in regards to family support services, including education, childcare, housing and health care.

In spite of these setbacks, the Coast Guard seized a record 469,270 pounds of illegal drugs last year, maintained active and vigorous anti-terrorism and national security operations around the nation’s oceans, rivers and ports, protected American ships, boundaries, and interests in the melting Arctic “where the U.S. is already behind and Russian and Chinese influence is expanding at an unprecedented rate.”

“Nothing is official yet,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kary Moss of Station Coos Bay earlier this week. “We are waiting to see what happens, just like everyone else. Until then, we continue to do our jobs.”

One of the main priorities for the Coast Guard here on the South Coast is its search and rescue. During this time last year, three commercial fishing vessels had capsized. Even after the crab fishing season ended, numerous smaller boats rolled and sank in local waters well into the summer. Perhaps the most amazing rescue of 2016 happened when 6-year-old Isaiah Metzger was saved in Winchester Bay after becoming trapped under his family’s boat.

Moss acknowledged that Coast Guard communities embrace the personnel housed at each station.

“These communities are extremely supportive everywhere,” he said. “We were adequately funded last year, so in the meantime we will stand by and see what shakes out. For us here on the South Coast, we will continue to do our jobs because that’s what we’re here to do.”