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Island County study claims Navy’s impact is ‘significant’

An economic impact study completed by the Island County Economic Development Council this month shows the impact Whidbey Island Naval Air Station has on area economies.

The base contributed $726 million dollars in salaries to Island County’s economy in 2011 and $15 million to Skagit County’s, according to the study.

The study was requested by in August by Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson.

Johnson presented the data collected during the study to Capt. Mike Nortier, commanding officer of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island during a public event for the Environmental Impact Statement initiated to study the new EA-18G Growler.

With approximately 10,000 employees, NAS Whidbey is four times the size of the next largest employer in Island, San Juan, Skagit and Whatcom counties, according to the EDC report.

“The community of Oak Harbor and all of Island County receive great economic and socio-economic benefit from the Navy’s presence in our community,” Johnson said in a letter addressed to Nortier.

“It also, as part of its role in our nation’s national defense, shares willingly in some of the sacrifice.”

In addition, at 22 percent of Island County’s total population, the concentration of veterans living near the base is three times higher than the national average, the report said.

In 2011, veterans who live in Island County received $44 million in retirement and disability payments. In Skagit County, that amount totaled $28 million.

NAS Whidbey also contributes significantly to education with more than 50 percent of the students in the Oak Harbor School District being military dependents and 13 percent of Skagit Valley College students, according to the EDC report.

The report also found that 50 percent of wages in Island County are paid by the military.

In 2011, the Navy paid $726 million to military members, with $107 million going to federal civilians, and 51 percent of the island’s school children being military dependents.

Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said she thought the study was a “good first step,” but that she didn’t believe the report is comprehensive enough.

“It’s a first draft,” Price Johnson said. “It’s not quite a finished product.”

The commissioner said she wants to see information reflecting any costs associated with the Navy’s presence, as well as comparing sales tax revenue on base to sales tax revenue in the civilian community.

 

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