The Coast Guard's Quillayute River Station has protected vessels off the state's northern coastline since 1929, and a possible shutdown is drawing heated protest from the resident Quileute tribe and people in the nearby town of Forks. They raised concerns about marine safety and the local economy at a hearing April 16, the first of four on the proposal. "If you take the Coast Guard out of here, this could become a drug-smuggling haven,'' Quileute Vice Chairman Tony Foster said. Coast Guard officials say rescue calls here have declined below the agency's 110-hour annual minimum since 1997 and the agency, facing a $91 million budget shortfall, is cutting back services nationwide. Boats and helicopters from other coastal installations would take over emergency response for the area. The Quileute tribe's executive director, Walter Jackson, raised the possibility of lawsuits over alleged breaching of tribal trust responsibilities or a strict environmental impact statement review. Ron Shearer of Forks said he tries to prepare for every possible problem when he uses his pleasure boat. "But things can go wrong. Having the Coast Guard at LaPush is like having the ace in the hole in a gambling game.''