Mathews County opposes USCG plan to suspend service at Milford Haven station, send unit to Portsmouth in off-season

Coast Guard

HUDGINS, Va. (WAVY) — Mathews County leaders are pushing back on a proposal from the United States Coast Guard that would suspend service at the Milford Haven station outside of the summer months.

The concept, included the USCG’s fiscal year 2022 budget, was considered after top brass looked at the amount of work the station does and weighed it with their need to “optimize the capabilities of its boat stations” a spokesperson said.

On Monday, the Mathews County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution calling the idea a “disregard for the safety” of boaters in the area. They sent copies to state and federal officials, even the president of the United States.

“And hopefully they will revisit this and see their error in judgment,” said Michael Rowe, chairman of the board.

The station, which opened in August 1967, sits on a body of water known as “Milford Haven” facing Gwynn Island.

It’s a short boat ride to the Piankatank and Rappahannock rivers and the Chesapeake Bay — waterways that aren’t just used by recreational boaters in the summer, according to Rowe.

“We have crabbers, we have clammers, we have fisherman … that’s their living,” Rowe said.

Rowe said the community of fewer than 9,000 people finds comfort in having the Coast Guard members there. The fear in having the station essentially closed half the year, would be lives lost because of slower response times.

Lt. Cmdr. Katie Blue, a public affairs officer for USCG’s Mid-Atlantic Region, said if the change were to go into place, the 25 active duty members currently assigned to Milford Haven would be incorporated under a “parent unit” at the guard’s much larger Portsmouth station.

“The Coast Guard is committed to the safety and well-being of those on the water,” Blue said in a statement. “We can and will respond to calls in the area with overlapping asset coverage, capabilities, and technologies. Stations neighboring STA Milford Haven include: STA Portsmouth, STA Crisfield, STA Cape Charles, STA Inigoes, and STA Little Creek. All stations are equipped with the modern 45-ft response boat medium.”

However, Rowe said there is no way the response would be fast enough in a life-or-death situation.

“Somebody has a boating incident and they are overboard … well in the summertime you can survive pretty good, the water’s warm,” Rowe said. “In the wintertime when the water is 40 degrees, you got 20 minutes.”

He added that many of them live, show and raise their families in the county and that it would also be a hit to the local economy.

Blue emphasized that the Coast Guard is still reviewing the proposal and taking comments from the public before the decision is finalized.

“If the proposal is finalized, the operational commander will determine the optimal schedule for STA Milford Haven based on several factors,” Blue said.

Still, U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, (R-Westmoreland), has weighed in that he is backing Mathews County’s efforts.

“The recently announced Coast Guard budget has proposed reducing operations at Station Milford Haven, shifting to only summer operations. Suspending off-season operations at Station Milford Haven would endanger Mathews County and surrounding areas’ residents, watermen, and visitors. Station Milford Haven’s ability to provide a timely response to any emergency on the water has proven critically important to the safety of residents of the Northern Neck, Middle Peninsula, and the western side of the Chesapeake Bay. These waters remain popular throughout the year, with many businesses dependent upon these waters during the winter months. Without a year-round local presence on the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula, Coast Guard Station Portsmouth, which is a two-hour boat trip away, would now become the off-season responding station. When hypothermia can kill within minutes, response times and proximity to emergency services are critical, putting at risk waterfowl hunters, waterman, fisherman and others on the water during the coldest months of the year.

“For those of us who live on the water, we know a decision to suspend off-season operations at USCG Station Milford Haven would be the wrong one.  That is why I have personally spoken with Coast Guard leadership and will meet with the Commandant to share the anger and frustration of those they would endanger. Thankfully, the Coast Guard has accepted my invitation to hear the voices of our watermen, boaters, duck hunters, and others who would be left without a means of timely rescue should this station close as part of a public hearing. In the meantime, I will continue fighting to keep Coast Guard Station Milford Haven open and staffed year-round.”

10 On Your Side also reached out to U.S. Sen Tim Kaine’s office, which said the senator is working to ensure Virginians won’t be negatively impacted by changes.

“As part of its FY22 budget request, the U.S. Coast Guard has proposed downgrading Station Milford Haven to Station (Small) Milford Haven – a move that would shift the station to summer operations only. Senator Kaine has reached out to the Coast Guard about this matter to ensure that Virginians are not negatively affected by any changes. Additionally, Senators Warner and Kaine have requested that Congress increase funding for the Coast Guard in the coming fiscal year.”

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