|Trading Budget Dollars for Human Lives|
The Great Lakes Boating Federation, advocacy voice for the 4.3 million boaters of the Great Lakes region, strongly opposes a federal budget proposal that would close U.S. Coast Guard helicopter stations based in Waukegan, Ill., and Muskegon, Mich. At a press conference held recently at the Shedd Aquarium, U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk from Illinois and a survivor of a boating accident both spoke out against the Coast Guard federal budget items. If passed, the budget item would raise the Coast Guard's response time from 17 minutes to one hour and 12 minutes. Visit the following web site to review the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's budget proposal: dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/budget_bib_fy2011.pdf.
Rep. Kirk stated his opposition to the plan. He owes his life to the quick response time of the Coast Guard, which rescued him when he was 16, after his sailboat capsized in Lake Michigan. The other speaker was Jim Emma. He also has the Coast Guard and a Waukegan-based helicopter to thank for his survival. He was rescued with six other boaters in May 2008 from a sinking boat.
The proposal would place boaters at increased risk. According to the U.S. Search and Rescue Task Force, on average, individuals lose consciousness after 30 to 60 minutes in 40- to 50-degree water, with expected survival times of one to three hours.
In addition to shutting the Waukegan and Muskegon facilities, the proposal would retire the five H-65 helicopters that assist boaters and lakefront citizens in peril using Lake Michigan and would replace them with four H-60 helicopters. The plan would also move the crews based in Muskegon, Mich., and the two crews operating in Waukegan's Coast Guard Air Facility (AIRFAC) during the summer, to Michigan's Air Station Traverse City.
From 2004 to 2009, Waukegan-based AIRFAC helicopters have helped to save seven lives and to assist 16 other individuals.
Weather conditions on the Great Lakes, and especially on Lake Michigan, are known to change very quickly from calm to volatile, catching many unsuspecting boaters by surprise. Many boaters are day sailors that sail from five to 10 miles offshore. They are unprepared to handle difficult conditions, and often become incapacitated in their abilities to deal with fast-changing seas. Waiting for more than an hour could mean the difference between life and death.
This move would put the lives of more than 25,000 southern Lake Michigan boaters at risk. It would be trading Coast Guard budget dollars for human lives.