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MacDowell, Cohen plug base while in D.C.

Two local officials are in Washington, D.C. this week to talk with congressional representatives and Department of Defense decision-makers in an effort to keep Whidbey Island Naval Air Station off any future base closure list.

Island County Commissioner Mac MacDowell and Oak Harbor Mayor Patty Cohen make the trip annually this time of year to keep positive information about the base fresh in the minds of those responsible for deciding which bases to recommend for closure, and which are so valuable to the military that they should remain open.

MacDowell is also a member of the Whidbey Task Force, a committee formed more than ten years ago that successfully rallied to remove the naval air station from a closure list in the early 1990s. The task force has remained active as a preventive measure to avoid future danger of base closure.

Whidbey Island Naval Air Station is not in danger of closure in the next round of Base Realignment and Closure Commission cuts set for 2005, officials say. However, nothing is guaranteed, so it is up to local officials to rally support in Washington, D.C. as a preemptive strike.

MacDowell headed to D.C. armed to the teeth.

In order to close the base here, MacDowell said, the military would need suitable facilities elsewhere to move Whidbey Island operations.

“You’re going to have to find somewhere else,” MacDowell said Monday. “To build this base somewhere else...is a pretty expensive proposition.”

Aside from having open airspace and the lack of encroachment issues with the civilian community, which are attractive features to the Pentagon, Whidbey Island is suddenly playing a very strategic role in the wake of the war on terrorism, MacDowell said, in the form of homeland defense.

“If you don’t have NAS Whidbey, you don’t have naval air presence in the Northwest,” MacDowell said.

This goes to show, he said, that one can never guess what is going to happen in the future.

“Once you give it away, you never get it back...especially waterfront property,” MacDowell said.

MacDowell and Cohen are scheduled to attend meetings today and tomorrow with Washington state senators and representatives, and high-ranking Department of Defense officials. The meetings were set by the consultant to the Whidbey Task Force, retired Adm. Jim Seely, without whom the pair could not expect to get in with the right people, MacDowell said.

Officials on the meetings list include military officers and civilian personnel in charge of such departments as air warfare, installations and environment, aviation plans and requirements branch, fleet readiness and logistics, and installation management division.

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