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Future of base looks secure

"With the latest rumblings from the Bush administration regarding the possibility of more base closures in the future, Oak Harbor Mayor Patty Cohen said she thinks that Whidbey Island Naval Air Station will be safe.According to the Associated Press, the Bush administration stated in the defense portion of its budget that base closures will be required in order to streamline military spending, noting that the military has a 23 percent surplus of bases.Cohen said she has no reason to believe that NAS Whidbey Island is in danger of winding up on a possible base closure list when Base Realignment and Closure Commission once again convenes, possibly in 2003 or 2005. Still, Cohen takes a preventative approach to keeping NAS Whidbey Island off any such list. Cohen met with the Whidbey Task Force last week to finalize details of the message she will carry with her to Washington, D.C. today, where she will meet with Pentagon officials and members of Congress. The mayor will be attending the National League of Cities conference and has scheduled the meetings regarding the base around the conference.The Whidbey Task Force was formed in the early 1990s when NAS Whidbey Island was slated for possible closure by the BRAC. Its role then was to save our base, said Cohen, by providing the commission with accurate data which reflected that the base should remain open. The group has been meeting regularly since.Its role and mission today is not a defensive role as much as it is one that can communicate to D.C. the relationship this community shares with NAS, Cohen said.Retired Admiral Lyle Bull agrees. I don't think Whidbey is in danger, but we never would be complacent enough to say, 'Whidbey is secure,' he said.The task force is chaired by Al Koetje and includes Bull, as well as other representatives from the community and the Navy.However, of the importance of the base to Oak Harbor, Cohen said, there are new faces this year in the Congressional delegation, and we need to educate them. Although Oak Harbor has a history of supporting the Navy base, Cohen will not rely on word to trickle down to the Pentagon. She said she reinforces that message every year, by staying on top of the information they are getting.When the Navy looks at its home ports, Cohen said, it looks at quality of life for its sailors, how the geographic area fits in with accomplishment of the mission, and the driving issues behind the base's relationship with the community, such as noise and land use, or encroachment. Oak Harbor has a long history of proactively addressing these issues, reflected in the zoning and planning that has made the military base and the civilian community peaceful neighbors.The fact is that the base is the principal economic force in the community ... It is our livelihood, Cohen said. But more than just economics, Cohen said, the local community takes, a tremendous amount of pride in that we can call ourselves home to that fantastic mission at NAS Whidbey.More than simply listening to lobbyists, Cohen said Congress and the Pentagon pay attention to concrete facts in answer to the question: What are you doing as a community to help ensure, guarantee, and protect the mission of the base?Oak Harbor has demonstrated that it supports the Navy's mission here and is willing to work at maintaining the positive partnership between the Navy and the community that has developed over the decades. It basically comes down to the idea that the Navy base is not a problem for the community, and the community is not a problem for the Navy base.Cohen said she is looking forward to expanding the business relationship between the community and the Navy here in Oak Harbor, with the privatization of services such as public works. You can reach News-Times reporter Christine Smith at csmith@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611 "

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