U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) today sent a letter to Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen voicing their opposition to a plan to make the Shark River Coast Guard Station in Avon-by-the-Sea a seasonal station and urged the Admiral to reconsider the decision. (A COPY OF THE LETTER FOLLOWS.)
For years, the Shark River Coast Guard Station has been open year-round, providing critical safety resources for a thriving boating and fishing community. This summer, the Coast Guard announced plans to close the station from October until the week before Memorial Day.
In their letter to Admiral Allen, Lautenberg and Pallone voiced concern over the proposal since the winter months present riskier conditions for boaters on the Atlantic Ocean. Last year, 13 of the 33 search and rescue cases handled by the station occurred during the off-season months.
The two New Jersey lawmakers wrote that had this station been closed during these emergencies response boats would have to travel an additional 6 miles from the Manasquan Station, which would result in longer response times. They continued; "this could mean life or death for boaters in peril."
"We believe that under the Coast Guard's plan, boaters in the Shark River Inlet area will be put at greater risk of not having the Coast Guard respond in time to prevent the loss of lives," Lautenberg and Pallone wrote in their letter to Admiral Allen. "We oppose this plan, and we ask you to reconsider."
Lautenberg and Pallone also vowed today to explore legislative solutions in the coming months if the Coast Guard refuses to reconsider its decision.
"Shark River is an important facility for New Jersey's boating and fishing community," said Lautenberg. "Boaters using this port need to know that the Coast Guard will be able to provide critical assistance in case of an emergency. As we've done with similar threats of closure in the past, we will work to keep the station open and keep our boaters safe."
"I'm hopeful that the Coast Guard was convinced by August's public forum that closing the Shark River Station would unnecessarily put a lot of boaters and fishermen at risk," Pallone said. "If the Coast Guard ignores our concerns, Senator Lautenberg and I will work through the legislative process to keep this station open at all times."
The letter comes after the two New Jersey lawmakers learned of the proposal earlier this summer. In August, at the urging of Pallone, the Coast Guard held a public forum to present the plan and to hear the opinions of concerned citizens. Nearly everyone in attendance, from boaters to fishermen, voiced strong opposition to the plan.
Ten years ago, the Coast Guard proposed a similar plan that would have closed the Shark River Coast Guard Station on November 15th for the winter season. Lautenberg and Pallone were successful in fighting that proposal and for the past decade the station has been staffed with search and rescue support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
October 23, 2007
Admiral Thad W. Allen
Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard
2100 Second Street, SW
Washington, DC 20593
Dear Admiral Allen,
We read with great interest a story in last Sunday's Washington Post Magazine in which you were interviewed about your early career experiences with the Coast Guard's search and rescue program. We found your recollection about the rescue of mariners off the Jersey Shore in blizzard conditions remarkable, and are thankful every day for your dedication and that of the other men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard.
However, we are horrified to learn that the Coast Guard plans to reduce operations and response capabilities this year on the Jersey Shore at the Coast Guard Station in Shark River Inlet, NJ. This stationwhich we understand you intend to close from October to May, would deprive this area of critical safety resources for a thriving boating community.
Fishermen - both commercial and recreational - fish throughout the year off the Jersey shore, not just during the summer months. In 2006, 13 of the 33 search and rescue cases handled at the Shark River Coast Guard Station occurred during the "off-season" or non-summer months. If Station Shark River were closed when these cases occurred, response boats would have to travel an additional 6 miles from Station Manasquan which would result in longer response times. This could mean life or death for boaters in peril.
You probably know as well as anyone that in the winter months, the Atlantic Ocean presents riskier conditions for boaters. Under these dangerous conditions, it is vital to have sufficient Coast Guard search and rescue capabilities.
Furthermore, among their many important duties, Station Shark River personnel monitor boating safety, including incidents of boating under the influence and proper compliance with boat equipment regulations. With the large number of recreational fishermen and recreational boaters on the Jersey Shore, this aspect of the Coast Guard's mission is vital to maritime safety in the region.
Based on your interview, it does not appear that during your early years of service you viewed search and rescue calls simply as cases'rather, on the other end of those calls were peopleboaters in distress, whose lives may be in serious danger. We hope your first-hand experience on the Jersey Shore will remind you that time is of the essence in these situations.
We believe that under the Coast Guard's plan, boaters in the Shark River Inlet area will be put at greater risk of not having the Coast Guard respond in time to prevent the loss of lives. We oppose this plan, and we ask you to reconsider it.