SC Coast Guard rescue station open through 2015

Coast Guard helicopter

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter rescue station near Charleston will remain open through the coming year.

South Carolina U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott announced Thursday that a provision in the new Coast Guard Authorization Act will keep the rescue helicopter flying from Johns Island through Jan. 1, 2016.

To save money, the Coast Guard earlier this year proposed shutting down the Johns Island ocean rescue facility and moving the chopper to Savannah, about 80 miles from Charleston.

But the senators say language in the authorization bill, now on its way to President Barack Obama, prevents the Coast Guard from closing any air facilities that were in operation on Nov. 30 at least through the beginning of 2016.

It also applies to the helicopter base in Newport, OR 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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