The commanding officer of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island told the Oak Harbor business community about the base’s capacity to support the future of aviation, the unmanned MQ-4C Triton, and other efforts that may change the Navy’s footprint on the island in the next 15 years.
Capt. Matthew Arny updated the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce on the station’s efforts to support the new technology, in addition to several other upcoming construction projects, during a meeting held over Zoom Thursday.
Arny detailed population growth projections at the base, planned construction projects on the base, upcoming noise monitoring projects and some of the Navy’s environmental impacts.
There are currently about 8,600 service members on the base, and 2,100 civilians/full-time contractors, Arny said. Arny added he expects the base to top out at 9,000 service members in 2022.
Incoming personnel is linked to the increase in EA-18 Growler operations, but is offset by a decrease in population due to the transition from P-3 Orion aircraft to P-8 Poseidon. The only squadron still using the Orions is a reserve squadron; the other six squadrons have already transitioned.
The station is also now prepared to support the MQ-4C Triton, an unmanned aerial surveillance aircraft, he said.
The base was awarded the Tritons in 2017 and the mission control station for the Triton is complete.
“We will, some time in the next few years, start running that platform from Whidbey Island, however, it will not land here. It is unmanned it will run from California or Guam and we’ll run that mission from here,” Arny said. It will take over a lot of the work the EP-3E Aries does now, he added.
Though the Triton mission control building is complete, there are still several construction projects in the works.
Multiple buildings to support the increase in Growler presence are planned; Navy officials plan for 36 additional Growlers in all. Three projects could tighten the base’s footprint in the next 15 years, he said.
Whidbey Apartments, a complex of about 70 living units near Ault Field, will be torn down and moved to the Seaplane Base.
A new clinic oriented to the flight line would take some of the burden off of the main one; the main clinic would also be moved to the Seaplane Base in the future.
Clover Valley Elementary, home of the Hand-in-Hand Learning Center, will also be recapitalized. The federal government has already committed 80 percent of the funding, Arny said. The school sits on federal property.
“If those three things, separately or coincidentally, are recapitalized out of that area, then we can restore our pattern a little bit tighter,” Arny said. It would “bring some of the noise even more onto the installation and off of the north end of Oak Harbor,” he added.
Arny also updated the business community about the Navy’s upcoming noise monitoring program.
The Navy will soon begin to gather noise data from several sites near OLF Coupeville and Ault Field, he said. Data will be collected four times a year during a one-week period. It will be done when OLF Coupeville is active, he said, and the data will be available to the public.
Noise monitoring will happen soon and the Navy is working with community leaders to determine where the sites will be, though he did not say when monitoring will occur.
The captain also spoke about some of the Navy’s environmental impacts above and below ground.
The Navy is waiting for a record of decision that will come at the end of October about its plan to continue and increase some of its underwater activities. It needed to supply a supplement to the environmental impact study completed in 2015 about the impact of its underwater activities on marine life in order to be permitted to continue them and add a few new ones.
Arny reminded the audience that Navy researchers contributed $2.5 million to research on southern resident killer whales and more than a $1 million to studying salmon and other fish that the whales depend on.
“This job, for me, has been very enlightening,” said Arny of the passion of both Navy researchers and community partners for the environment.
He also updated the audience about the Navy’s work with contaminated wells in both Coupeville and Oak Harbor with a group of chemicals known as PFAS. Several wells have tested positive for the chemicals used by the Navy.
The water treatment facility for the contaminated Coupeville wells is complete, and some residents have been taken off the old wells, according to Arny. A few more remain to be completed.
Several contaminated wells on Goldie Road in Oak Harbor and two others close to Ault Field will also be hooked up to city water, except for one that will receive a new well.
A recording of Arny’s presentation can be found on the chamber’s YouTube page.