Coast Guard budget takes hit from sequestration cuts
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Arwyn Rice/Peninsula Daily News
Lt. Cmdr. Edward Geraghty of Coast Guard Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles delivers an update at Monday's Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce meeting.

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — The U.S. Coast Guard has had its operational budget cut by 25 percent because of sequestration, but there will be no changes to search and rescue operations or essential crew training, according to a Coast Guard pilot who spoke at Monday's Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce meeting Monday afternoon.

“We will launch on search and rescue, but we may not be able to do everything,” Lt. Cmdr. Edward Geraghty of Coast Guard Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles told about 50 members of the chamber.

Geraghty said that instead of canceling training for crews, training done as individual units will be done jointly, which will make training operations more cost-effective, he said.

“We will maintain the proficiency of our air crews,” he said.

Lt. Regina Caffrey, public affairs officer for the 13th Coast Guard District in Seattle, said in a separate interview that there may be cuts in discretionary programs such as overtime, transfers and temporary hires.

The Coast Guard is tasked, Geraghty said Monday, with 11 “statutory missions,” of which the two primary missions are search and rescue, and critical port, waterway and coastal security.

If a Coast Guard unit is working with either mission, other missions may be delayed, or they may be pulled off of a mission to respond to a search and rescue or critical security mission, he said.

The other nine missions are drug interdiction, aids to navigation, living marine resources, marine safety, defense readiness, migrant interdiction, marine environmental protection, ice operations and other law enforcement.

The Port Angeles air station has more than 300 active duty, reserve and civilian personnel, covers a 3,500-square-mile area, and oversees 5,000 deep-draft ships that make passage through the Strait of Juan de Fuca each year, as well as many thousands of small craft.

The air station operates several HH-65D Dolphin helicopters, as well as being home port for cutters Active, Cuttyhunk, Wahoo, Swordfish and Adelie.

Boaters can help the Coast Guard by making sure they follow safety measures, such as filing a “float plan” and following it, Geraghty said.

They should make sure someone knows their general location, supply life vests for everyone on board, and have a radio or other contact equipment.

“If you don't have the right gear, I'm going to spend a lot of time searching for you,” Geraghty said.

Geraghty said that it takes about a half-hour for a helicopter flight crew to get into the air, and additional time depends on the distance they have to travel.

If near Port Angeles, it could take as little as five minutes to reach a search area, but it can take an hour or longer to reach a more distant location, he said.

Boaters in distress should be ready to use a radio or cellphone to direct rescuers to their location once rescuers get close.

The Coast Guard responds to every emergency call, even for calls that sound like they may be children playing with their parents' radio sets, Geraghty said.

“One time we didn't respond, and a little boy and his father died,” Geraghty said.

An hour in the air costs the Coast Guard $6,000, he said.

There are more false calls in the summer, when children are often left alone with little to do.

When such calls become too frequent, the Coast Guard works with the Federal Communications Commission to track the calls' origin, he said.



Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.



Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb contributed to this report.

Last modified: March 18. 2013 6:09PM
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