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Originally published Tuesday, March 2, 2010 at 12:56 PM

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Big changes for Coast Guard in Pacific Northwest

Local U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Doug Kaup will be playing a lead role in a dramatic redesign that will transform the Coast Guard in the Pacific Northwest.

The Daily Astorian

ASTORIA, Ore. —

Local U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Doug Kaup will be playing a lead role in a dramatic redesign that will transform the Coast Guard in the Pacific Northwest.

Fundamental structural shifts will soon take place in the upper ranks of Coast Guard leadership, and will change everything for Group Astoria.

The move is part of a Coast Guard-wide transformation that began after 9/11 which will soon concentrate more leadership in Astoria and shift it away from Portland.

The new organization will:

-Eliminate Group Astoria, leaving Air Station Astoria in place.

-Bring about 35 new Coast Guard jobs to the area during the next year.

-Control Columbia River Bar closures locally.

-Move a key shipping security role from Portland to Astoria.

In August, Kaup, now commander of Group/Air Station Astoria, will become commander of the brand new Sector Columbia River. He'll assume several new responsibilities, including captain of the port, a top security position long based in the shipping industry-rich Port of Portland. He and a new cadre of sector staff will run the new unit from the current group headquarters at the Astoria Regional Airport, seated at the river's mouth.

The physical territory Kaup is responsible for will greatly expand, while adding authority to oversee shipping and safety. Group Astoria will no longer exist.

"The group will go away, but it won't change what we do," Kaup said. Local search and rescue will be a segment of a larger sector command center, responding to emergencies from as far away as Idaho and eastern Oregon.

About 600 people who work for the Coast Guard live in Clatsop County, Kaup said. The total number he'll oversee in the new sector will be about 850, about a 40 percent increase, he added.

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At the same time, Sector Portland, now headed up by the current captain of the port, Capt. Frederick Myer, will transform and become Marine Safety Unit Portland, with a new captain in charge. Myer will transfer to the new sector headquarters in Astoria, where he will become the deputy sector commander and help Kaup, a helicopter pilot of 27 years, grow into his new role.

The shift is part of a Coast Guard effort to streamline and standardize the work that it does. Sectorization, as the Coast Guard calls it, has already happened in almost all of the country, but because of the area's dual use as a shipping channel and commercial fishing thoroughfare, it took longer to happen here.

"Frankly, this has been a very difficult nut to crack because of the geography, the different missions on the coast compared to what we have in Seattle and Portland," Myer said.

District 13 encompasses all of Washington, Oregon and parts of Montana and Idaho, and will be split into two north-south sectors. Up north, Sector Puget Sound will absorb Group/Air Station Port Angeles. Group Astoria, one of the last remaining groups in the nation, will disappear into the larger Sector Columbia River, leaving one person accountable for the river system, Kaup said.

"The public will have one voice on the river," Kaup said. Soon, he will decide when to close and open the Columbia River bar, being just minutes from the ruthless "graveyard" itself. Kaup thinks he'll be better able to make decisions about reopening the bar quicker than having the captain of the port in Portland.

"We'll be closer to where the action is," he said.

While recreational users might not notice huge shifts in day-to-day management of the ocean and rivers, frequent commercial users of major shipping routes, like the Columbia River, are already bracing for the adjustment.

Jim Townley is the executive director for the Columbia River Steamship Operators Association, and represents the prominent shipping industry centered within the Kalama, Longview, Portland and Willamette River complex. Townley knows that the Coast Guard has tremendous powers over the ships, cargo and commerce on those waterways, and is worried that Kaup might not be the right man for the captain of the port job. Kaup, he said, doesn't have firsthand experience running a port as large as Portland, for example.

"There is a tremendous amount of responsibility we don't think he's prepared for," Townley said. While conceding that the Coast Guard is sending its "best and the brightest" to man the transition, he is concerned that future sector commanders might get overwhelmed by the heavy workload.

In April, Townley and many of his industry partners have set up a week long "meet and greet" for Kaup and other senior officers to go to Portland and get acquainted before they start working together.

Kaup said he looks forward to meeting them, and wants to let them know that he understands how his role can have an impact on the maritime industry.

He agrees with Townley that his experience operating ports is limited, and that's why he's got strong support in place - like Myer - to help him gain experience.

"I plan to use the good people I have on my staff to help me make sound decisions," Kaup said.

Columbia River Bar pilot Capt. Gary Lewin has heard some grumbling coming from Portland about the leadership shift, but thinks it's for political reasons more than anything else. Lewin said having more authority in Astoria will be a positive overall, but especially from a homeland security and safety perspective.

"To have the top brass down here in Astoria would be helpful to the system," he said.

Bar closures, he is hopeful, could be more efficient than Portland calling Astoria to find out weather conditions.

"The way it works now, there is a time lag before a decision is made," Lewin said. "We're hoping ... they'll become more familiar with bar conditions."

---

Information from: The Daily Astorian, http://www.dailyastorian.com

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