S.C. Senators secure federal ban on Air Facility Charleston closure

The Coast Guard airlifted an infant to the hospital Sunday from a vessel in St. Helena Sound.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott have prevented a shuttering of Air Facility Charleston for at least more two years.

The two South Carolina Republicans were able to secure the language banning the Johns Island facility’s closure in the U.S. Coast Guard authorization bill that cleared earlier this week for the president’s signature.

Graham and Scott worked in tandem with Oregon’s Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, who were also able to protect their state’s air facility in Newport from closing due to budget constraints.

All four lawmakers got together on the Coast Guard authorization bill of 2014 to enforce a one-year moratorium in closing the Johns Island and Newport facilities, which provide crucial search-and-rescue functions. In this most recent authorization of Coast Guard programs, the bipartisan team also succeeded in inserting a provision requiring the Coast Guard to produce studies and accountability to Congress before proposing air facility closures in the future.

In written statements, Scott and Graham cheered their victory over the Coast Guard, which faced public uproar in 2014 over initial plans to close the two facilities to save money.

“Losing the Air Facility Charleston and its search-and-rescue helicopter would have serious effects on one of our nation’s critical port cities and adversely impact the safety of mariners, residents and tourists in the Lowcountry,” Scott said.

“I’m very pleased that before the Coast Guard is able to close these facilities they must take their time and fully study the impact their decision will have on public safety,” said Graham. “I fear losing the Air Facility Charleston would have a negative impact on operations at one of America’s most critical ports and leading coastal communities.”

The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015 passed the Senate at the end of last year with a last-minute amendment making the changes sought after by Scott, Graham, Wyden and Merkley. The House on Monday evening passed the amended bill by a voice vote.

At least half the members of the South Carolina delegation in the U.S. House were unaware that they had passed a bill containing the new protections for their state’s air facility, according to a survey of S.C. lawmakers on Wednesday.