Millions and millions of dollars

Capt. Syd Abernethy rolled out impressive economic numbers Thursday in his “State of the Station” address.

Abernethy is Commanding Officer of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station and has held the top post at the base for about a year. Members of the Oak Harbor Chamber and local government leaders filled the ballroom at the CPO Club to hear his report.

Appreciative chuckles rippled through the crowd when Abernethy said, “I’m going to share statistics near and dear to your hearts.”

The volume of dollars generated by North Whidbey’s largest employer got a boost this year with arrival of VQ-2, a squadron from Spain with 1,000 military and dependents.

He thanked the community for giving the newcomers a warm welcome and for the military appreciation picnic at City Beach.

NAS Whidbey now pumps $400.9 million into the local economy, he said. That amount breaks down into $336.7 million from military payroll, $38.2 million from civilian employment and $26 million from maintenance, transportation and utilities per year.

Abernethy described how the base’s mission ties into national security and how the base’s chief purpose is readiness of aircraft to fulfill specific missions.

The Navy is preparing to make significant investment in base facilities.

The EA-18G “Growler” will arrive in 2008, the aircraft destined to replace the aging EA-6B Prowler. And plans call for upgrading other planes based at NAS Whidbey.

“The future is bright as all aircraft are to be updated in the next five years,” he said.

As a result, the Navy will spend $26.5 million in 2007 on Hangar 5 and $22 million on a consolidated fuel facility. The following year, another $31.6 million will be spent on fixing Hangar 5 and $18.7 million to improve facilities for the Growler.

Abernethy pointed to the successful partnerships the Navy has formed with Coupeville and Oak Harbor schools, and the swimming pool in Oak Harbor. Also, with American Eagle Communities, which will build 360 Navy houses by 2009.

Enivornmental stewardship is one of Abernethy’s personal concerns. He said he’s pushing for testing water wells in the vicinity of Crescent Harbor Marsh as efforts continue to monitor for the presence of 1,4 dioxane, a chemical used in earlier times in a degreasing solvent.

An audience member asked Abernethy what the Navy plans for the corner of Ault Field Road and Highway 20. He said the A-6 Intruder recently moved from City Beach is in the process of being refurbished for installation as a monument at the corner. An EA-6B Prowler will be added when that jet retires, too.

As with any CEO with authority over a large facility and big budget, Abernethy pursues continuous quality improvement.

“We’re getting better every day,” are the words he promotes to encourage individual and collective improvement.

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