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Save NAS Whidbey Task Force works to be prepared

Kathy Reed/Whidbey News Times Save NASWI Task Force Chairman Al Koetje, former mayor of Oak Harbor, reminds members and guests that if and when there are future base closure proposals, they must be ready.  - Kathy Reed/Whidbey News-Times
Kathy Reed/Whidbey News Times Save NASWI Task Force Chairman Al Koetje, former mayor of Oak Harbor, reminds members and guests that if and when there are future base closure proposals, they must be ready.
— image credit: Kathy Reed/Whidbey News-Times

Members of the Oak Harbor City Council were well received in Washington, D.C.

That was the upshot of a meeting of the Save NASWI Task Force at Oak Harbor City Hall on April 19, although there is interest in upcoming projects that could affect Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

Members of the city council have been traveling to the other Washington and the Pentagon for more than 20 years, ever since Whidbey Island Naval Air Station was put on the government’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) list in 1991. Since that escape from the list, the task force has made it a priority to keep NAS Whidbey’s name in front of the decision makers in Washington, D.C., touting positive things like lower expenses and quality of life to help keep the base off any future BRAC lists.

This year new Mayor Scott Dudley and council members Jim Campbell, Beth Munns, Bob Severns and Tara Hizon made the trip.

“There were a lot of positive comments in reference to NAS Whidbey from those who had spent time here,” Dudley told the task force.

“Everything I got was positive,” agreed Severns. “There were questions about the fuel line and about Boardman (training range).”

The jet fuel line in question is the one running from the Seaplane Base to Ault Field base, which the Navy is planning to replace, with cooperation from the city and county. The other area for concern is that a number of wind turbines are being built near the Boardman Bombing Range near Boardman, Ore., along the Columbia River. NASWI commanding officer, Capt. Jay Johnston, who is not a member of the task force but was there to answer any questions pertaining to the Navy, said the real issue is the height of the wind turbines.

“The problem is low altitude tactical training and the windmills they’re building,” said Johnston. “There is a restricted area where the planes are flying at 500 feet and below, so the Navy is working on compatible land use plans. We’re looking at all types of mitigation.”

Some of the turbines being built are as tall as 495 feet, which could obviously impede low altitude training flights. According to Johnston, there are ongoing meetings being conducted to help reach a solution.

“It’s not an easy problem, because wind energy has exploded in that area,” he said. “But we’re not talking a lot of property.”

“As far as the windmills and the fuel line, they were offering help,” said Munns. “They wanted to know ‘What can we do to help the base?’”

Another concern for task force members was the arrival of the P-8A Poseidon aircraft at NAS Whidbey. Johnston reassured the group that getting four squadrons of P-8s at NAS Whidbey is still the Navy’s program of record. Munns agreed that the plan to bring the Poseidon to Whidbey has support in Washington.

“They seem determined that Whidbey Island is the place for P-8s,” she said. “Of the five trips I’ve made, this one seemed the most conducive to Whidbey.”

It was Councilwoman Hizon’s first trip as an Oak Harbor representative.

“Our reception was extremely warm and welcoming and I was impressed with the level of knowledge. They had all done their homework,” she said.

“This was the second or third time I’ve made the trip,” said Councilman Jim Campbell. “Previously we would get a commander; every meeting this time was at the admiral level. I found it a very good trip, one of the best.”

According to Munns, consistency pays off.

“They all told me, ‘It makes a difference to make the trip,’” she said. “We are the only ones that are consistent.”

 

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