Candidate accused of favoring base closure

Two influential Oak Harbor citizens are accusing the Democratic candidate for Island County Commissioner of favoring closure of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station — a charge the candidate, Dean Enell, denies.

With another round of military base closures facing NAS Whidbey next year, protecting Island County’s most vital economic resource has become a hot topic in the commissioners race.

In 1991, the South Whidbey-based Whidbey Environmental Action Network, or WEAN, sent a letter and a petition signed by 22 people in support of closing the base.

The letter was brought to light by Barney Beeksma, a former state representative from Oak Harbor, and Al Koetje, who was mayor of Oak Harbor during the first round of base closures when Whidbey was temporarily slated to be closed.

The letter states in part, “many people on Whidbey are fed up with the Navy’s Superfund toxic waste dumps poisoning the environment, the aerial dumping of jet fuel killing the forest on Central Whidbey... the overwhelming militarization of North Whidbey with its abundant distortion of social and cultural value...”

Beeksma and Koetje, in a written statement, said that Enell has sat on the WEAN board and therefore must be in favor of closing the base.

But Enell said he didn’t become a member of WEAN until 1997. He said Tuesday he was not aware of WEAN’s stance on the base closure in 1991 and that he does not agree with it at all.

“I was not aware that WEAN had taken that stance and I do not support that action,” Enell said. “That would be disastrous for Whidbey Island.”

Enell said the economic benefits the base provides are vital for Whidbey Island and Island County.

WEAN spokeswoman Marianne Edain, co-founder of the organization, said WEAN’s stance was not to advocate for base closure, but to make the most out of it if it did close.

“What I remember is that we did not directly advocate closing the base,” Edain said. “The intent (of the letter) was if it was going to happen, then it still can be a positive.”

Enell said that while he will actively work to keep the base open, the county and Oak Harbor need to begin to develop a contingency plan if the base does not survive next year’s closures.

“Oak Harbor should start developing a plan to become less dependent on the base,” Enell said. “You don’t want all of your eggs in one basket.”

Enell is running against Republican incumbent Mike Shelton, a long-time supporter of efforts to retain the Navy base on Whidbey Island.

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