The county council voted unanimously Tuesday evening to send a letter opposing the proposed closure of the U.S. Coast Guard station in Oxford. Maryland’s two U.S. senators and First District Congressman Andy Harris also are opposing the closure.
The letters from the county council and the congressmen were among 102 comments received by the Coast Guard, with many of those writing in opposition to the closure of the Oxford station.
The station is among five being considered for closure, according to a notice in the Federal Register seeking comment. The notice was published in mid-February, but only recently came to the public’s attention, just days before a midnight Tuesday deadline for comments.
A 2017 GAO report said the Coast Guard, in 2013, had identified 18 stations that could be permanently closed without negatively affecting the agency’s 2-hour response standard for search and rescue missions. In its Federal Register notice, the Coast Guard said it was planning to close five stations.
According to the report, the FY2015 operating cost for the Oxford station was a little more than $1 million. Crews there responded to 117 search and rescue missions between 2010 and 2016, about 17 annually. Of those 117 missions, eight were during winter months.
The Talbot County Council, in its submitted comment, said, “Station Oxford is necessary to provide security of the public health and safety and emergency assistance.”
The council, in a letter signed by Council President Corey Pack, wrote, in part:
“.. (T)he closing of Station Oxford would be detrimental to the safety of boaters on the Eastern Shore. Station Oxford plays a pivotal role in the safety of boaters along the waterways from northern Tilghman Island to the Little Choptank River on the eastern side of the Chesapeake Bay, and also over to Chesapeake Beach and south to Calvert Cliffs on the western side.
“Station Oxford provides timely response to any emergency on the water and plays a critical role in educating the public on boater safety. If Station Oxford is closed, the next closest station to most of the areas Station Oxford serves is Station Annapolis. This is a major concern.
“Station Annapolis is 32 nautical miles from Oxford, 25 nautical miles from St. Michaels, 45 nautical miles from Solomons, 80 nautical miles from Crisfield, and 48 nautical miles from Cambridge. In addition to the distance, Station Annapolis requires the responding crew to travel across the entire Chesapeake Bay, which can be treacherous at times and require slower boat speeds, resulting in an increased response time.
“A response time of greater than an hour is concerning. It is even more concerning when you consider that hypothermia can set in within 45 minutes. Talbot County has more licensed watermen than any other jurisdiction in Maryland, many of whom work in one fishery or another nearly year round, and the loss of a nearby USCG station in Oxford will mean that their lives will be in greater peril.
“The Eastern Shore is also known for waterfowl hunting during the winter months. Hunters routinely take out large groups on guided boat hunts during the winter. If a guided tour experienced an emergency on the water, the response time would be crucial to the group’s survival. Relying on a boat from Annapolis, in poor winter weather, could easily result in tragedy.”
Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, both Democrats, and Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican, also urged the Coast Guard to take the Oxford station off the chopping block.
They wrote, in part:
“Station Oxford is the only U.S. Coast Guard site in the Eastern Shore of Maryland, a region that consists of nine counties and makes up more than a third of the total land area of the State. We fear that the loss of the facility in Oxford would drastically increase emergency response times with the effect of undermining the region’s safety and security.
“The Eastern Shore is a vast geographic region that includes the waterways of the Chesapeake Bay, Choptank River, and Little Choptank River. Economically, the area and its waterways form one of the most critical seafood harvesting grounds in the state. In its large geographic jurisdiction are the active Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant as well as the Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas export facility, two key national security assets. Moreover, these waters are part of the Intracoastal Waterway that vessels use for transit along the length of the East Coast of the continental United States. Thousands of watermen work and travel along the waterways, even in cold water and inclement weather. The individuals who work in this and other industries on the water will at times require assistance in a time of emergency.
“Station Oxford is all the more essential for meeting the unique security and safety needs of the Eastern Shore given that it is the only U.S. Coast Guard facility in this extensive region. Manned by approximately 20 U.S. Coast Guard personnel, Station Oxford provides critical emergency response in a timely manner that is not likely to be maintained if it were to close. Indeed, many of the public safety agencies in the area simply do not have the boats and other resources necessary for responding to emergencies on the waterways. There is no alternative facility that can meet the needs of the Eastern Shore. …
“Two other government agencies share the site with the U.S. Coast Guard: (1) the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Centers for Coastal Ocean Service’s (NCCOS) Cooperative Oxford Laboratory and (2) Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR). This cohabitation of three agencies on one site has created longstanding partnerships while also allowing for greater utilization of the unique resources of the U.S. Coast Guard by state and local entities. Yet while both NOAA and DNR also provide important functions, they cannot be a substitute for Station Oxford, whose public servants stand ready to respond to emergencies 24/7 all year round. Their commitment to serving the needs of the Eastern Shore was only underscored when, during the 35-day federal government shutdown of 2018-2019, the men and women of Station Oxford continued to work even as they went unpaid and the NOAA and DNR facilities were vacant.”
The other stations being considered for closure and consolidation with neighboring stations are Fishers Island, N.Y., Salem, N.J., Shark River, N.J., and Roosevelt Inlet, Lewes, Del.