State helps city save base

This week the state gave the city of Oak Harbor $53,160 to defend Whidbey Island Naval Air Station against an upcoming round of base realignment and closures.

Both Oak Harbor and state officials are taking the specter of base closures very seriously.

Earlier this year, the legislature allocated funds to support local response to the federal Base Realignment and Closure commission’s process. The Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development awarded Oak Harbor an $18,000 grant in May and the $53,000 grant this week.

Defense spending and military payrolls brought in approximately $8 billion to the state in 2001. Approximately $327 million went to NAS Whidbey.

"This effort demonstrates the State of Washington's genuine desire to protect the Department of Defense's investment in our state, as well as our military communities,” Oak Harbor Mayor Patty Cohen said. “This is all about sending a strong message to Washington, D.C. that the state of Washington is working to preserve, protect and enhance Department of Defense assets."

Members of the city’s Whidbey Island Naval Air Station Task Force will decide how to spend the money. The group formed in 1991 in response to NAS Whidbey being placed on the initial closure list.

Al Koetje, former mayor and chairman of the task force, said the group has been meeting ever since. The next round of Base Realignment and Closure is on the horizon.

Criteria for base closures will be finalized next February. Defense Department recommendations will be sent to the BRAC commission by May 2005. The commission’s list will be sent to the president by Sept. 8, 2005.

Koetje said the task force will use the grant money for new brochures and a DVD about Oak Harbor “to give to legislators and Navy personnel.” Also, the grants will fund trips to Washington, D.C. and the city’s military consultant, retired Rear Adm. James Seely of Virginia.

While Koetje said he is optimistic about the future of NAS Whidbey, the message about the importance of the base needs to get out.

“We think, of course, that it’s one of the most important bases for the military and national defense,” he said. “It helps to protect our area and the West Coast.”

Island County Commissioner Mac McDowell has been involved in the local effort to to keep the base off the closure list from the beginning, having traveled to Washington, D.C. many times to meet with military and legislative officials.

"The national significance of NAS Whidbey has been clearly delivered and heard in the past,” he said in a press release, “as NAS Whidbey moved from being on a closure list in 1991, to the years of 1993 and 1995, wherein NAS Whidbey held the distinction of being the highest military rated Naval Air Station on the West Coast one year, and for the entire United States the other year. As we move toward the 2005 BRAC, it is of paramount importance that the message continues to get to those people involved in the BRAC process in Washington DC. The money provided by Washington State provides a very significant contribution toward that effort."

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