The federal government has been likened to a vast ocean liner. Once it’s set a course, it doesn’t easily stop or turn.
But last week, the U.S. Coast Guard showed its maneuverability when it comes to policies that matter to citizens. It reversed course on an earlier plan to remove a lighted whistle buoy from the Chatham Harbor entrance.
The fate of the “C” buoy might not be on par with the national debate over health care, immigration or foreign policy. But if you’re at sea trying to locate the harbor on a dark, foggy night, it’s pretty important.
In this case, vocal opposition from Chatham mariners might not have been enough to convince the Coast Guard to keep the buoy in service. Buoys are expensive to install and maintain, and the “C” buoy wanders occasionally in the strong surf and heavy currents, and needs to be put back on station. Kudos to Chatham town staff who were alert to the plan to remove it, and who rallied the board of selectmen to write a letter opposing the idea.
Even that might not have been enough to sway the Coast Guard, but the effort grew to involve fishing groups, neighboring towns’ boards of selectmen, and even the Barnstable County Assembly. The buoy is a regional asset, and Cape Cod spoke as a region in favor of retaining it. We congratulate the Coast Guard for hearing those concerns and responding appropriately.
But the story shouldn’t end with the “C” buoy. Last year, citing a table that counted the number of days that breaking surf was present on the Chatham Bar, the Coast Guard downgraded Station Chatham from a surf station to a “heavy weather” station. As a result, rescue boats are only able to respond through breaking surf of eight feet or less, rather than the previous 15 feet.
Local mariners can be forgiven for worrying that the downgrade might foreshadow cuts in resources or staffing at Station Chatham. In 1996, citing the need to cut costs, the Coast Guard cut staffing at Station Chatham and Station Provincetown, and placed both posts under the leadership of a single station chief. The plan raised concerns about delayed response times to boats in distress, and was ultimately reversed because the financial savings were not substantial.
It’s again time for the region to speak with a single voice and urge the Coast Guard to restore Station Chatham’s surf status. Meteorological tables notwithstanding, we know that conditions on the Chatham Bar are as bad today as they were 10 years ago, or during the famous Pendleton rescue in 1952. And we know that the men and women of the Coast Guard are semper paratus, always ready, for the challenge. Let them show us once again that they hear the concerns of local mariners and can respond accordingly.