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Whidbey business leaders combat OLF division
Island business leaders are taking a stand as pro-Navy and pro-business in the wake of the ongoing debate over jet noise at Outlying Field Coupeville.
Coupeville Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Linda Eccles was inspired to speak out when she heard some Whidbey residents calling for a boycott of Coupeville businesses. The largest group of vocal opponents to the Navy’s touch-and-go operations at OLF reside in the Coupeville area.
Eccles and some business owners fear Coupeville may be perceived as anti-Navy as a result and that the businesses will suffer.
“We’re very supportive of our armed services,” Eccles said. “It’s getting ugly and it’s unfortunate. We just want to let the Navy know we are not just sitting quietly.”
Eccles added that residents on both sides of the debate should continue to support all local businesses and put politics aside.
The Navy suspended touch-and-go operations at OLF in June. The outcome of a federal lawsuit filed against the Navy in July by a Coupville-based community action group is pending. The group is asking a judge to compel the Navy to initiate a new environmental impact study in relation to the jet noise.
Chuck Poust, owner of Windjammer Gallery and president of the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association (CHWA), said any calls for boycotts in Coupeville should be ignored.
“We’re here, as we’ve always been here,” Poust said. “Lots of Navy families visit us and we welcome them.”
“We can’t afford to alienate anyone,” said Marcia Johnson, owner of Kneed and Feed Restaurant in Coupeville, CHWA member and wife to Cmdr. Vincent Johnson, a Navy pilot who is currently deployed.
Eccles and Oak Harbor Chamber Executive Director Kathy Reed are in the process of joining forces to ensure that the OLF debate does not impact the business community. The two plan to meet in the coming weeks to develop a strategy that combats divisiveness that may damage local businesses.
Reed spearheaded the “Jets = Jobs” campaign which aims to remind residents of the economic impact the base has on North Whidbey Island. Reed said she has observed boycott discussions online and feels that some may have misunderstood the message.
“The chamber is not calling for a boycott at all,” Reed said. “That’s not what we’re about. I think some people are confused.”
Reed said she feared animosity between the two camps may hurt the island community and it’s businesses.
“I don’t want to see the whole issue divide us any further,” Reed said. “We’re all Whidbey Island.”
Meanwhile, Eccles said the Coupeville Chamber is in the process of designing posters with a pro-Navy, pro-business message that will be made available to put in storefront windows. Eccles hopes the campaign will remind people to think in terms of their community and get away from the debate.
Meanwhile, Reed said the “Jets = Jobs” signs are “flying out the door.” In efforts to recoup the manufacturing cost, the Oak Harbor Chamber is accepting donations and will continue to sell “Jets = Jobs” items including hats and T-shirts.