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Skipper says NAS Whidbey Island will see substantial growth in coming years

Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times Capt. Mike Nortier, commanding officer of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, presents the annual State of the Station to more than 100 attendees during the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce luncheon Thursday at the Elks Lodge #2362. - Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times
Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times Capt. Mike Nortier, commanding officer of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, presents the annual State of the Station to more than 100 attendees during the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce luncheon Thursday at the Elks Lodge #2362.
— image credit: Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times

Capt. Mike Nortier, commanding officer of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, praised the community’s support of “Team Whidbey” at Thursday’s annual State of the Station address to the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

“For the leadership on base, those community partners and service providers are what make Team Whidbey successful,” Nortier said. “Those relationships we have, both on a personal and professional level are both very important.”

More than one hundred people attended the luncheon at the Elks Club to hear about future growth in base population, aircraft transitions and the economic impacts NAS Whidbey Island has on the local community.

Nortier, who said he has never been stationed at the same base twice, said he’s never seen community support like he has here in Oak Harbor.

“The military appreciation picnic is a highlight,” Nortier said. “As I said, out of all the bases I’ve been I don’t recall a community holding a military appreciation picnic.”

Nortier said the community support has been appreciated as the base has faced budget cuts and sequestration.

NAS Whidbey personnel completed 17 search and rescue operations in 2013, providing the Navy with a way to give back to the community and also keep their skills sharp, Nortier said.

Moving forward the base anticipates continued reductions to base operations and maintenance funding. However, the military population is projected to increase by 25 percent 2015-2018.

“We are working with key players, county, cities, schools to ensure this projected growth is understood,” Nortier said.

With the arrival of several P-8A squadrons starting in 2016, the base’s current population of 6,900 active duty residents is expected to climb to roughly 9,000.

While the Environmental Impact Statement process for the P-8As is still in progress, the Navy expects to hear by May whether or not they will have six or seven total squadrons assigned to the base.

He added that on-base housing and barracks will not be expanded so the additional personnel and their families will be renting or owning in the community.

As a result of the additional aircraft and personnel expected in the coming years, the base has plans for facility additions and upgrades starting as soon as this year in anticipation of the growth, Nortier said.

NAS Whidbey’s current economic impact on the community is estimated at more than $1 billion, comprising $833 million in total payroll, $108 million in contracted facilities and projects, $120 million for capital projects, $18 million in medical payments and $6 million in education.

The base also expects to receive two additional EA-18G Growler expeditionary squadrons in 2016, but that EIS process will ultimately determine the basing for that aircraft. NAS Whidbey currently has three Growler squadrons.

Nortier said the addition of two squadrons is a result of a “demand” for additional electronic attack capabilities when working with the other branches of the military.

Nortier said the Navy will continue to gather public input about the Growlers through Jan. 31, as the deadline was recently extended.

He said while he’s “not going to be able to make everyone happy,” it is his hope that the community and the Navy can come up with a livable compromise.

The number of annual complaints made to the Navy about jet noise has climbed up to 676 in 2013, Nortier said, but the number of callers has stayed relatively static, showing that the same number of people are making more complaints.

 

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