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Whidbey to get 6 P-8A squadrons
The Navy announced it will be basing six P-8A Poseidon squadrons at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station at the close of a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement this month.
“This move highlights the strategic importance of NAS Whidbey Island and we look forward to the arrival of the first P-8 squadron beginning in 2016,” said Capt. Mike Nortier, commanding officer for NAS Whidbey.
“Now that a decision has been announced, we will begin moving forward with planned projects to build aircraft simulators and improve necessary hangar and airfield facilities to support the P-8A aircraft,” Nortier said.
“I appreciate the public involvement in the P-8A Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement process and the decision to support six squadrons at NAS Whidbey Island is welcome news for Team Whidbey,” Nortier said.
The Navy said in a prepared statement that it weighed two alternatives during the SEIS process and chose the option to base six fleet squadrons at NAS Whidbey and six fleet squadrons, plus the replacement squadron at Jacksonville Naval Air Station in Florida.
The choice also calls for a permanent rotating squadron detachment at Hawaii Marine Corps Base and periodic squadron detachments to Coronado Naval Base in California.
The decision presents the “greatest re-use of existing facilities and optimizes manpower, simulators and facilities at NAS Jacksonville and NAS Whidbey Island,” according to the Navy’s prepared statement.
The second option would have based seven squadrons at NAS Whidbey and five squadrons at NAS Jacksonville.
“It’s a relief to see it in black and white and have an official announcement,” said Jim Slowik, who serves on the Save NAS Whidbey Task Force.
“There’s been so many rumors.”
Navy League President Butch Bailey said the new aircraft will increase the base’s ability to respond when needed.
“From a tactical standpoint, this puts a new generation of technology in their hands,” Bailey said. “They’re getting the newest and latest.”
The number of squadrons based at NAS Whidbey will increase from three to six. The number of aircraft within these squadrons will jump from 24 P-3 aircraft currently to 42 P-8As once the transition is completed.
However, fewer crew are needed to maintain the newer aircraft, so personnel numbers are expected to stay relatively static with an estimated loss in the area of 190 military personnel and their dependents.
Heavy usage of simulators for training will decrease the number of air operations at Ault Field from approximately 14,000 to 10,000, according to EIS documents.
Michael Monson, president of Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, a group that has been vocal against Navy jet noise, said he was glad to see the number of operations will be decreased.
But he said he remains cautiously optimistic about what the noise impact of the jet fueled P-8As will be in comparison to the propellor driven P-3.
“If the Navy claims they are quieter, I hope they are,” Monson said. “Oak Harbor needs to catch a break and I hope that’s it.”
The transition to the P-8As are expected to provide economic stimulus in the form of new construction, which is estimated to reach over $110 million and provide more than 1,100 jobs.
“The announcement of the P-8s is good news for Oak Harbor’s businesses,” said Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce President Jason McFadyen. “It will provide economic stability for many years to come, and it shows that the Navy believes in Whidbey Island.
“This is a good day for Oak Harbor and the surrounding communities.”
The decision and SEIS documents are available for review on the project website at www.mmaseis.com. Copies have also been distributed to the Oak Harbor City Library, 1000 S.E. Regatta Drive, and the Coupeville Public Library, 788 N.W. Alexander St.