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Locke pledges funds for bases

Local agencies trying to stave off the possibility of closure of Whidbey Naval Air Station might get a financial boost from Gov. Gary Locke.

The governor has asked for $500,000 in his draft 2004 supplemental budget to aid communities facing potential base closures. The money would be in the form of a matching grant, with local communities contributing an equal amount.

The list of bases to be included in the next round of Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, won’t be announced until 2005, but supporters of NAS Whidbey say it’s not too early to start formulating a plan to protect the valuable community asset.

While it’s not yet known how much of the $500,000 the community around NAS Whidbey would receive, Al Koetje, chairman of the NAS Whidbey Task Force, said the money could be used to continue to get the message out about the value of the base.

The group, which was formed to support efforts to keep Whidbey off the BRAC list, is currently working on producing a glossy brochure extolling the virtues of the base and its value to the community. They hope to have the publication available by March.

The group has $34,000 in its treasury to use in the fight, and has a full time consultant working in Washington, D.C., on their behalf. They also plan to hire a consultant for their campaign.

“We hope to get together enough data and information to keep off the list,” Koetje said.

Chris Rose, a state executive policy advisor, said distribution of the funds would be limited to five counties with military bases: Island, Spokane, Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap.

“We tried to limit the scope to focus on the most impacted counties,” he said.

Rose said Gov. Locke was very supportive of the military in Washington, and that the state would be providing expertise as well as money in the upcoming base closure battle. Local groups will be able to access the resources of the state Community, Trade and Economic Development agency, and the Office of Financial Management.

“This is a combination of giving money to the local communities and the state being more actively involved,” Rose said.

He also credited the Joint Committee for Veteran and Military Affairs for expressing a need for the funding. The committee of legislators was formed last year in anticipation of the BRAC list.

Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, joined that committee in her first year in office. The group toured the state, visiting military installations and meeting with community groups.

Bailey said the tour helped the committee realize how important military bases are to those communities, but that some of them did not have the resources to prepare the reports they will need in their base defense plans.

“It can be a big expense,” she said. “The information is not always easy to gather.”

Military installations are also big business in the state, something not everyone realizes, Bailey said.

“The bases are extremely important, if not vital, to the economy of the state,” she said.

Oak Harbor Mayor Patty Cohen said it was her understanding that the state money would come to the city, which would then disburse it to the NAS Whidbey Task Force.

She said the money would be used to develop a message, to “inform, educate and update on the huge investment made at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.”

“We want to seize the opportunity and be very proactive in our campaign,” she said.

The city is not planning on changing anything right now to prepare for the BRAC list, but it will continue to foster a good relationship with the Naval base.

“Our partnership with NAS is one we continue to nurture,” Cohen said.

Both the city and NAS Whidbey are working on quality of life issues, which will be considered in the base closure criteria.

“We believe those are important to pay attention to,” Cohen said.

Rose said Locke’s supplemental budget will now go through the House and Senate. It will be mid-March before communities with military bases know if the funding will be in the budget and available this year.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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