Michigan lawmakers oppose cuts to Coast Guard stations in Traverse City, Muskegon
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - A Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City, Mich., aircrew hoists a member of the Michigan State Police Emergency Support Team aboard the air station's MH-65C Dolphin rescue helicopter during joint-agency training at the air station, Dec. 8, 2011.The training was held to qualify members of the state police for operations with other agencies' aircraft, and allows the air station crew to better understand the state police's procedures and capabilities. (.U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. j.g. Jim Okorn)
In a letter to ranking members of the Subcommittee on Homeland Security, Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the cuts would put “at risk the large number of boaters on Lake Michigan.”
The Department of Homeland Security is planning to reallocate the Coast Guard’s rotary wing structure. The plan would remove five short-range H-65 helicopters from the Traverse City station in favor of three medium-range H-60 helicopters, which are thought to have better winter condition abilities, according to information obtained from the Department of Homeland Security.
The proposal would allow the Coast Guard to avoid a $37 million expense by repurposing two of Traverse City’s H-65 helicopters to replace aircraft lost during operational mishaps.
But, the two Senators say the restructuring will negatively impact response for Michigan residents.
“Lake Michigan’s boaters deserve to be protected through a Coast Guard facility on southern Lake Michigan,” the letter states. “We urge you to direct the Coast Guard to maintain its Muskegon AIRFAC and provide the additional H-60 helicopters to Air Station Traverse City. Thank you for your consideration.”
Congressman Dan Benishek’s office relayed potential disapproval for any cuts that would negatively impact his constituency.
“Although this fleet of helicopters is not stationed in the 1st Congressional District, Dr. Benishek (R-Crystal Falls) is a strong supporter of the Coast Guard’s mission in the Great Lakes,” said Kyle Bonini, spokesman for Congressman Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls.
“If the Obama Administration is sacrificing safety on the lakes it is just more evidence of how out of touch the administration’s budget is for Northern Michigan.”
Bob Bradley, executive director at the Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet 9-1-1 Central Dispatch, said his authority has depended on the aircraft at Traverse City in the past for key rescue services, such as in 2011 when a sailboat capsized from storm conditions during the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac, killing two people.
Bradley also said helicopters have provided medical transport from remote places such as Beaver Island when needed.
“I don’t know what the impact will be, but it all factors in,” Bradley said.
A spokesman for the Ninth Coast Guard District, based in Cleveland, declined to comment. He said it is against policy to discuss any pending legislation.