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Coast Guard to cut operations around LI

The Coast Guard will reduce its on-the-water operations around Long Island by up to 25 percent due to a federal budget cut. But the agency says there will be no change in search-and-rescue capability or security at large events.

The Coast Guard, like other federal agencies, has had to cut its spending under the "sequestration" cuts recently approved by Congress.

At Sector Long Island Sound, which covers all Nassau and Suffolk waterways, "nothing is going to change with search and rescue," said Capt. Joe Vojvodich, the sector commander. "All the stations are going to have their 24-hour response capability. We will maintain our communications and be staffed up to answer the calls and be able to respond."

He said the Coast Guard also would honor commitments to help with the planning and then be present at larger events such as the Memorial Day weekend air show at Jones Beach State Park. His agency will continue to maintain the safety zone on the water for the air show.

Sector Long Island Sound, headquartered in New Haven, Conn., has about 550 personnel, and that will not change. And no facilities will be closed.

But there will be reductions "where we have some discretion, in terms of when we patrol and do random boardings" to check for required safety equipment or illegal catches of fish, Vojvodich said.

There will also be a reduction in maintenance of facilities and aids to navigation, travel and administrative expenses, and lower priority training.

Recreational boating and commercial fishing organizations said the reduction of the Coast Guard's presence is not good news but said the agency was handling the funding cut the best way possible.

"We are always concerned when less safety and enforcement resources are available on the water," said Larry Weiss, Long Island spokesman for the United States Power Squadrons boating safety organization. "But now, post Sandy, Long Island waters have become potentially treacherous."

Weiss noted that "aids to navigation have moved or are missing -- and those still in place may be meaningless as so many channels have shifted. Dozens and dozens of boats are missing -- submerged or drifting somewhere, creating navigation hazards. These are very serious situations that will now be all that more difficult to address."

Weiss added, "We also have some homeland security concerns. Some Long Island Harbors are frequently visited by recreational yachts from other countries. Crews can easily come ashore without anyone noticing."

Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, said, "Obviously it's a situation no one wants to be in. But if the search-and-rescue component to keep people out of harm's way isn't affected, that's the best choice they could have made given the hard decisions they've got to make."

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