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Coast Guard picks replacement for ousted Montauk commander

The Coast Guard has selected the head of a Michigan station to run its Montauk facility following the removal of James Weber for conducting unauthorized boat training.

Senior chief Jason Walter, commander of Station Tawas on Lake Huron, will take over as officer in charge at Montauk. He was based there as a crew member on the cutter Ridley.

"He's top-notch," said East Hampton senior harbormaster Ed Michels, a former commanding officer at Station Montauk who knows Walter from his Ridley days.

Montauk Boatmens & Captains Association president Stret Whitting said, "I'm glad he does have some connection to Montauk, because he'll appreciate the concerns that we have."

Whitting and Michels said they are pleased that Walter has the same level of surf training certification - as a heavy-weather coxswain - that Weber did. "That's what Montauk needs," Michels said.

Walter, from Bushkill, Pa., enlisted in 1994. Before serving at Station Tawas and on the Ridley, he was aboard the Philadelphia-based cutter Cleat as executive petty officer. He also served on the cutter Grand Isle out of Gloucester, Mass., and at a facility at Taylors Island, Md. He holds a 200-ton merchant mariner's license. He could not be reached for comment on his appointment.

"Walter is a consummate professional with a proven track record of performance, leadership and experience in the Long Island area of operations," said Cmdr. G. Todd Prestidge, chief of enlisted assignments at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington. "Currently serving in command of a heavy weather search-and-rescue station in the Great Lakes, BMCS Walter is experienced in 47-foot motor lifeboat operations." That is the same craft used at Montauk.

Weber, a chief petty officer and 21-year veteran of the Coast Guard, was removed from command in October after he and a subordinate took a pair of rescue boats into 10- to 15-foot surf generated by Hurricane Bill in August.

Weber's certification to steer in high surf had expired and the other helmsman had never qualified to operate in surf. Weber had been given verbal permission by his superior for the exercise, but the conditions exceeded the stipulations of the waiver, the agency said.

Weber's removal sparked an outcry in the Montauk maritime community, where the sentiment was that he should have been training in high seas so he could conduct a rescue in bad weather. Weber is now assigned to the staff of Sector Long Island Sound.

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