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Fishermen's wives sue Coast Guard

The wives of fishermen from Oregon's largest commercial fleet are suing to stop the U.S. Coast Guard from closing its rescue helicopter station in Newport.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in Eugene argues that closing the Newport Air Station would violate the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which prohibits the Coast Guard from cutting back its mission. It adds the National Environmental Policy Act requires the Coast Guard to do a formal assessment of the impacts on public safety and potential oil spells.

"The law clearly requires the Coast Guard to follow a detailed process that examines the impacts of decommissioning the Newport Air Station on the environment and public safety," plaintiffs' attorney Mike Haglund said in a statement.

The Coast Guard has said budget cuts led to the closing, and it will cover the central Oregon Coast from Astoria and North Bend stations.

The lawsuit says that will add an hour to the time for a helicopter to reach a stricken vessel, which could be the difference between life and death in cold Pacific waters.

Coast Guard spokesman Chief Warrant Officer Chad Saylor said they would let the legal system determine the validity of the claims.

The agency has also announced plans to close the rescue helicopter station in Charleston, South Carolina, saying its area could be covered from other air stations. The Nov. 30 closure for both stations was delayed until Dec. 15 after members of Congress protested.

Closing the stations is estimated to save $6 million each, Saylor said.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Newport Fishermen's Wives Inc., the City of Newport, Lincoln County and the Port of Newport. It seeks a permanent injunction blocking the closure of the air station.

It argues that the deaths of three fishermen from hypothermia after their boat sank off Newport in 1985 led to establishment of the Newport base.