Politicians of all stripes in the province joined loud, angry and ultimately futile protests three years ago before Ottawa shuttered a maritime rescue sub-centre in the city.
A marine communications and traffic services centre in St. John's stopped broadcasting last month. A similar site in St. Anthony on Newfoundland's north coast is to be phased out in August, leaving locations in Placentia, Port aux Basques and Happy Valley-Goose Bay to handle weather warnings, distress calls and monitor marine traffic.
"There's nothing that has been shut down," Rob Moore, the federal regional minister, told reporters Wednesday. "We're not using technology from four decades ago. We're going to use modern technology, and that has allowed us to consolidate some of these substations, consolidate when it comes to search and rescue.
"We have to continue to provide that protection, and that's a big part of what today is about."
The new coast guard base that will serve as Atlantic region headquarters will go up near the site of the '60s-era building on the St. John's harbour.
The old structure will be demolished when the new one is finished in 2018, Moore said.
About 200 coast guard employees will all move to the new building. It will feature tidal energy for heating and cooling and improved security, Moore said.
Absent from the event on the waterfront were provincial officials. A spokeswoman for Moore said it was a federal event and the exclusion was not unusual.
The provincial minister responsible for fire and emergency services reiterated Wednesday in an emailed statement the Progressive Conservative government's opposition to Ottawa's approach.
"We have repeatedly called for the reversal of the federal government's decision to close the centre," Darin King said of the Coast Guard Marine Communications and Traffic Services site in St. Anthony.
"We've taken every opportunity to express our concern," he said. "Newfoundland and Labrador has a unique coastline and unpredictable marine conditions that require specialized and dedicated resources to ensure our residents remain safe at sea."
Gregory Lick, director general of operations for the Canadian Coast Guard, said marine communications officers get in-depth training.
"We share those same concerns in terms of being able to help mariners on the water with some of that local knowledge," he said in an interview.
"We make sure that those people that are monitoring those waters understand the areas that they're responsible for."
Merv Wiseman, a retired maritime search and rescue co-ordinator in St. John's, said the changes come with little or no public consultation. Promises that marine safety won't be affected as emergency co-ordination is centralized ring hollow, he said in an interview.
"Human capacity in these centres they are closing is being overlooked. Technology is important, but so is decision-making and human analysis of problems."
St. Anthony Mayor Ernest Simms agreed that local knowledge is vital when every second counts. The local port is one of the busiest in the province and is increasingly steady with international ship traffic.
"To take this service out of St. Anthony is to do a disservice to the people that need it," he said in an interview.
"My main concern is safety."
Both Simms and Wiseman said the changes needlessly increase potential risk.
"I can see disaster looming," Simms said.
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