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Neptune memorial makes progress

The five-man group trying to get the city of Oak Harbor to accept a gift of a P2V Neptune memorial in a Pioneer Way pocket park made an unexpected baby-step forward Monday.

Although the proposed memorial wasn’t on the Oak Harbor Park Board agenda and Public Works Superintendent Cathy Rosen went to lengths explaining why it wasn’t on the agenda, it was the only thing the board discussed at the meeting.

In the end, Senior Planner Rob Voigt said city staff would work with the P2V group to get all the details ironed out and present a final proposal and staff recommendation to the Park Board at the next meeting in August. The board members will then make a recommendation and forward the matter to the Oak Harbor City Council.

Judging from the reception, it seems like there’s a good chance the board will make a positive recommendation. Board member Tom Hawkins called the proposal a “greased pig,” but said he supported allowing the Neptune memorial in the park.

“We need to speed up the process,” he said, “for the sake of the people who’ve been on the hook for a year or better.”

Councilman Paul Brewer, who is championing the proposed memorial, was also at the meeting. He argued that such a memorial would not only boost tourism, but it is very appropriate for a Navy town.

“This is our history. This is our heritage...” he said. ‘it is not a walk of death, as described at the council meeting.”

Retired Cmdr. Don Hanson, a former P2V pilot, explained that the proposed $110,000 memorial is a life-size bronze statue of a “lone airman” in front of a three-part granite wall. Two of the walls will feature the names of the 85 servicemen who lost their lives in Whidbey P2V operations dating back to 1948. The central panel will have a dedication to all Navy patrol squadrons, “especially ... those who supported, maintained, and flew the Lockheed P2V Neptune.”

The original proposal, presented to the Park Board more than a year ago, also included a statue of a woman on a park bench and a boy before her. Hanson said that was deleted from the proposal early on because Parks Director Hank Nydam didn’t want too much “clutter” in the park and to cut the cost of the project.

The men’s quest to have a memorial or tribute to the P2V in Oak Harbor began more than four years ago, but there have been plenty of obstacles along the way. They originally wanted to bring a P2V plane to the city and place it on the Navy base. Hanson said he scoured the nation and eventually found a plane. But then Sept. 11, 2001, happened and the base was suddenly not an option.

The group decided to have a different type of memorial and looked for somewhere to place it. Hanson said they wanted it somewhere that is very visible and where non-Navy people could see it. They decided on the VFW Memorial Park on SE Pioneer Way. There’s a high volume of traffic that passed by and it’s already designated as a military memorial.

“As far as a military memorial,” Hanson said,”it’s the perfect place.”

“We want something that people will come visit, see, experience,” said Cpt. Dave Bowen, a retired Northwest Airlines pilot and a former P2V pilot in VP-2. “We don’t want to bury it somewhere. We just won’t do it.”

The members presented their idea to the Park Board, but a decision was put on hold while the board put together the “parks gift and memorial catalog,” which is a policy on accepting gifts into parks.

In order to clarify how the city deals with memorials in public spaces, the city council formed an ad hoc committee consisting of councilmembers Richard Davis, Eric Gerber and Sue Karahalios. They created a policy stating that memorials should have broad public appeal and should not be specific to a certain group, like a certain Navy squadron, police officers or news reporters. The memorials should fit into the park disguised an amenities, like a interactive fountain or a bench with a plaque.

The council adopted the new policy, but Councilman Paul Brewer successfully added an amendment that excluded the P2V memorial from the policy, which would have killed it. He argued that the proposal should be “grandfathered in” because it was presented well before the new rules.

Monday, there were a lot of questions and confusion about the P2V proposal at the Park Board meeting. A couple of Park Board members argued that allowing the memorial would lead to dozens more memorials crowding the parks, apparently not realizing that the City Council ruled that only this single memorial was exempt from the new policy.

There were also questions about who would be responsible for maintenance, how big the patio area would be and what would happen if a car hit the statue.

“We will do whatever it takes,” Bowen said.

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