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Newport Fishermen's Wives, Inc. v. United States Coast Guard

United States District Court, D. Oregon

April 29, 2015

NEWPORT FISHERMEN'S WIVES, INC., an Oregon nonprofit corporation, CITY OF NEWPORT, LINCOLN COUNTY, and PORT OF NEWPORT, Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES COAST GUARD, an agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

MICHAEL J. McSHANE, District Judge.

The Coast Guard Air Facility located in Newport, Oregon (AIRFAC Newport), is a detachment of Air Station North Bend. AIRFAC Newport sustains a single MH-65 helicopter and four-person crew on a rotating twenty-four hour basis. In early October 2014, the city of Newport received notice that AIRFAC Newport would be closed on November 30, 2014 (later delayed until December 15, 2014), after nearly three decades in operation. Plaintiffs, concerned with the loss of this local search and rescue (SAR) resource, petitioned this Court to enjoin the closure under the Administrative Procedure Act[1] for violations of the National Environmental Policy Act[2] and the Homeland Security Act.[3]

While the case was pending before this Court, the Howard Coble Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014[4] was signed into law by the President. The Coast Guard, in reliance on the Coble Act, which prohibits closure of AIRFAC Newport until January 1, 2016, moves to dismiss this litigation as moot.

This Court is asked to consider whether plaintiffs' existing claims are moot and, to the extent those claims are based on future conduct, whether those claims are ripe for adjudication. Because this Court is unable to form a reasonable expectation that the Coast Guard will reengage in allegedly wrongful behavior, this Court finds that plaintiffs' existing claims are moot and, to the extent those claims are based on future conduct, those claims are not yet ripe for adjudication. Thus, defendant's motion to dismiss, ECF No. 36, is GRANTED, and plaintiffs' motion for stay, ECF No. 38, is DENIED.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

This action arose out of the formerly pending, but now cancelled, closure of AIRFAC Newport scheduled for November 30, 2014 (later delayed until December 15, 2014).

AIRFAC Newport was established in 1987 following the tragic loss of the trawler Lasseigne and its three-person crew in November 1985. See Decl. of Ginny Goblirsch 2, ECF No. 7. The AIRFAC Newport location was intended to facilitate SAR missions between Air Station Astoria, which is located 95 nautical miles to the north, and Air Station North Bend, which is located approximately 70 miles to the south. See Decl. of Christopher A. Martino 2, ECF No. 19. AIRFAC Newport, itself a detachment of Air Station North Bend, does not house permanent personnel. Id. at 3. Instead, each day, a MH-65 helicopter crewed by a pilot, copilot, flight mechanic, and rescue swimmer, travels from Air Station North Bend to AIRFAC Newport and remains on standby for a twenty-four hour shift. Id. Following each twenty-four hour shift, the standby helicopter and crew are replaced by another helicopter and crew from Air Station North Bend. Id.

On or about February 2012, the Coast Guard began considering the closure of AIRFAC Newport and an additional AIRFAC in Charleston, South Carolina. Id. at 7. In March 2012, the Coast Guard preliminarily determined that both closures fell under a categorical exclusion to NEPA. Id.

On April 10, 2013, the Coast Guard proposed the closures of both AIRFAC locations in the President's Budget for Fiscal Year 2014. Id. On April 23, 2013, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert Papp, Jr. testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation regarding the closures. He stated:

The Coast Guard will also consolidate regional assets where overlapping capabilities exist by closing Air Facilities in Newport, OR and Charleston, SC. The 2014 budget ensures that our resources are aligned to our Nation's highest priorities in a manner that balances key investments for the future with sustaining essential investment in today's missions and capabilities that provide the highest return on investment.

Id. at 8.

On January 17, 2014, the Consolidated Appropriations Act[5] was signed into law. This Act approved the Coast Guard's budget request, which included both proposed closures. Id.

In a letter received October 2, 2014, Rear Admiral R. T. Gromlich notified Lance Vanderbeck, Newport's Manager of Airport Operations, that "the Coast Guard ha[d] decided to close our Air Facility in Newport, Oregon on November 30, 2014." Compl. 1, ECF No. 1-1. Rear Admiral Gromlich further provided:

Through targeted investment in vital recapitalization projects, the Coast Guard has significantly improved our SAR response posture. Specifically, we have deployed the Coast Guard's Rescue 21 communications and distress calling system, which provides us with significantly improved detection capability, as well as the ability to use radio signals to more efficiently locate mariners in distress. In addition, there have been improvements in safety and survival equipment that greatly increase the chance of survival and detection for imperiled mariners. Given these improvements in the overall SAR system, the ...

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