News

Rep. Larsen serves pork to his district

Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, the Island County Sheriff’s Office and the Oak Harbor School District may be in line for some federal pork.

Second District Congressman Rick Larsen unveiled his wish list of so-called earmark requests, which include nearly $770 million for projects in northwest Washington. It was the first time he’s made his entire list public, an effort toward greater transparency.

Earmarks are add-ons to the federal budget and are commonly referred to as pork barrel spending. According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, the term dates back to gifts of salt pork in a barrel by slave-owners to their slaves.

“I have decided to share my earmark requests with the public to provide constituents with more information about my work to secure federal funding for local priorities,” said Larsen.

Four of the requests, including his largest, would have an impact on Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. He asked for nearly $550,000 to repair P-3C Orion patrol aircraft and accelerate development of the plane’s replacement, the P-8A Poseidon. It is the Navy’s top unfunded priority not included in the president’s 2009 budget.

Kim Martin, public affairs at the base, said the aging P-3 continue to have problems and may need to be replaced sooner than anticipated. The Navy grounded 39 of the anti-submarine, surveillance planes in December because of concerns about a possible structural problem in the wings.

The Navy plans to replace the three P-3C Orion squadrons stationed at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station with four squadrons of P-8A Poseidon jets, beginning no later than 2012, under the preferred alternative identified in the draft of the environmental impact statement.

Larsen requested $3.3 million for improvements to the academic fire instruction facility at the base. Martin said the firefighting school, where sailors learn to fight fires on carrier decks, really needs a facelift.

“They’re in modular buildings that are in really poor shape,” she said.

Larsen asked for $4.5 million to supplement joint electronic warfare training efforts at NAS Whidbey, which is home to the EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft and will be home to its successor, the Growler. Larsen also wants $6.2 million to go to Alliant Techsystems, Inc. “to upgrade the Navy’s electronic warfare capabilities which will help the Prowler and future Growler communities at NAS Whidbey,” a press release from Larsen states.

Martin said Larsen has long been a significant and successful supporter of the base.

“He has really helped make Congress understand our needs,” she said.

Elsewhere in Island County, the Sheriff’s Office also made Larsen’s list of earmark requests. The congressman is asking for $80,000 to purchase and install additional laptops and software in patrol cars.

Undersheriff Kelly Mauck said the office received 20 or so laptop computers for patrol cars through a federal grant a couple of years ago. He said the new money will buy enough new computers so that every deputy has one with such features as backlit keyboards and touch screen.

“Our goal is to get the best technology in our cars that is going to keep our deputies safe at night,” he said.

In addition, Larsen requested $50 million for impact aid to support school districts that serve military families. It would be an increase from the $30 million budgeted in past years. This program comes from the Department of Defense, serves only districts affected by the military and is completely separate from the much larger Impact Aid program in the U.S Department of Education budget.

Schools Superintendent Rick Schulte said this program started during the first war in Iraq and was meant to help school districts cope with the burden of war. The district received about $300,000 a year through the program, but that would apparently increase if Larsen gets his earmark.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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