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Oak Harbor City Council united on pro-Navy resolution
Wearing matching T-shirts, Oak Harbor’s mayor and City Council members presented a united front Tuesday in support of the Navy’s training exercises for jet flyers.
But the night wasn’t without controversy.
Several people in the audience said they oppose the warplane noise.
One attendee even accused a councilman of lying.
FOR TUESDAY’S meeting, Mayor Scott Dudley and the council members all wore shirts with “I Heart Jet Noise” in front and “Sound of Freedom” on the back.
A resolution proposed by Dudley stressing the economic importance of the base was passed unanimously by the council. Councilwoman Tara Hizon was absent due to illness.
THE RESOLUTION states that the base “contributes $409 million directly to the Island County economy in wages paid to military personnel, which is 44 percent of all county wages, not including the civilians it employs.”
The resolution also states that veterans and active duty members of the Navy are “vital to the social fabric of Oak Harbor” and that training is vital to the Navy’s mission.
DUDLEY PROPOSED the resolution in support of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station and its training activities in response to complaints and a lawsuit filed by some Central Whidbey residents over noise produced by the Navy’s new EA-18G Growler during touch-and-go operations at Outlying Field Coupeville.
Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve for a Healthy, Safe and Peaceful Environment filed a federal lawsuit this summer, asking for a new environmental impact study be conducted by the Navy.
In response to the lawsuit, pro-OLF support has included rallies in Oak Harbor and Coupeville with more planned this weekend.
OAK HARBOR resident Shane Hoffmire, who regularly attends council meetings, said he strongly supports the resolution. He also announced he is no longer the chairman of the Whidbey Island Democratic Club because of a disagreement with other members over the issue.
“I know the noise generated by these beautiful planes is often referred to as ‘the sound of freedom,’ but to my family and me it is simply the sound of home,” he told the council.
HOFFMIRE SAID during an interview that he feels strongly the Democratic Club should take a stand on the issue. When other members disagreed, he proposed a proclamation that simply explains that the club isn’t taking a stand because the majority of members don’t feel it’s a political dispute and not in the best interests of the club to take a side.
When the proclamation failed to pass during a special meeting, Hoffmire said he quit in protest.
“People have lines they will draw in the sand,” he said. “This is an issue I had to draw a line in the concrete on.”
Marj McNae, a member of the Democratic club, said in an interview that everyone in the club is very supportive of the Navy, but board members thought it wasn’t appropriate to delve into an issue that’s non-political, non-partisan and divisive.
McNae said members are sad Hoffmire quit. She lives in the Navy flight path and plans to personally write a letter in support of training missions.
Two people spoke in opposition to the city council’s resolution, but the pair of naysayers made their points boldly.
North Whidbey resident Garrett Newkirk complained about the constant airplane noise over his 500-acre family farm in Dugualla Bay. He claimed the noise has stripped all the value from the property his family has owned since before the Navy arrived on Whidbey Island.
Newkirk said he believes community leaders are willing to sacrifice his family’s well-being for “ill-gotten gains.”
Wendy Campbell DeWinter called the resolution “an extremely superficial document” and chided the council for not researching the issue properly.
“I’m extremely disappointed by what seems to be a knee-jerk reaction by the mayor and the City Council,” she said.
THREE AUDIENCE members — including Hoffmire — and all the council members spoke in support of the resolution.
Councilman Rick Almberg said he understands what the jet noise is like, provoking someone in the audience to call him a liar.
Unfazed, Almberg added that the civilians’ role is to support the military during a time of war.
Councilman Danny Paggao, a Navy veteran, called the base the “economic lifeline” for the island and stressed the importance of training.
Councilman Jim Campbell echoed the sentiments, but interrupted himself to briefly confront Newkirk from behind the dais; Campbell evidently felt Newkirk was acting inappropriately in the audience.
COUNCILMAN JOEL Servatius said he strongly supports the base and took part in the pro-OLF demonstrations.
Still, he admitted he doesn’t really love jet noise and admitted he struggled with the decision to wear the T-shirt. He said the noise is a byproduct of living near the base and that the sheer economic benefits of the base are undeniable.
“We want to build community, not divide it.”