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How the Navy has changed Everett

The base has helped to shape not only the city’s physical face, but also its economy and culture.

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By Noah Haglund
Herald Writer
@NWHaglund
Published:
  • A tug boat moves away from the side of the USS Abraham Lincoln as it departs from Naval Station Everett on Sept. 7.

    Dan Bates / The Herald

    A tug boat moves away from the side of the USS Abraham Lincoln as it departs from Naval Station Everett on Sept. 7.

  • Sailors line the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln as it docks at Naval Station Everett for the first time on Jan. 8, 1997.

    Herald file

    Sailors line the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln as it docks at Naval Station Everett for the first time on Jan. 8, 1997.

EVERETT — People used to think of Navy towns as rowdy places full or bars and cheap thrills.
Folks in Everett generally take a different view: charity, jobs and really cool displays on the Fourth of July. That perspective evolved during the 20-plus years that the community has hosted Naval Station Everett.
“Since the Navy came to town, we’re far more attentive to our veterans, we’re far more attentive to our patriotic holidays,” said Pat McClain, an Everett city employee who’s worked on issues involving the base since it was first proposed in the early 1980s. “I think the Navy gave us a new dimension to our culture.”
Before the base arrived, officials in Everett were trying to figure out how to cope with the projected loss of thousands of jobs in the timber industry, McClain said. That would have left the area with the notoriously cyclical Boeing Co. as the only anchor.
The Navy, however, would add stability.
Naval Station Everett is now Snohomish County’s largest public employer, and the second-largest employer overall, behind only Boeing.
Its approximately 6,000 employees and their dependents contribute to the local economy not just as consumers; many of them gain administrative skills and technical know-how that make them hot commodities in the job market.
“It’s hard to go to any office in town or any store without finding anybody whose father or brother or a spouse is part of the Navy here in Everett,” said John Mohr, executive director of the Port of Everett.
Bob Drewel, former county executive and now the executive director of the Puget Sound Regional Council, said the base changed the region’s economic vitality.
“There are highly trained folks in other capacities there who have gone on to enter the work force and stay in our community,” he said.
The USS Abraham Lincoln has been home-ported here since 1997. News that the familiar aircraft carrier would depart Everett in late 2011 for a midlife fueling of its nuclear reactors stoked fears that it would also carry away about half of the base personnel.
The announcement Thursday that another carrier, the USS Nimitz, would move to Everett from San Diego next year put those fears to rest. The Nimitz is scheduled for a year of maintenance in Bremerton before heading here.
Crew gives back
Navy officials in 1983 first proposed opening a new base somewhere in the Puget Sound region. The following year, Everett was the top pick over 13 other area ports.
There was an initial groundbreaking in 1987.
One thing that would be different about this base is that personnel stationed there would be allowed to live throughout the region, rather than being restricted close to base.
With the Lincoln’s arrival a decade after the groundbreaking, Snohomish County and other local governments braced for how the carrier’s crew would affect the community.
Marine View Drive near the waterfront was widened from two to four lanes, as planners prepared for 3,000 new residents — 70 percent thought to have cars. Everett Transit added a route to the base.
The Lakewood and Marysville school districts prepared for a wave of new students.
Over time, the base would prove to have unanticipated impacts. Take charity, for instance.
Sailors on the USS Lincoln in recent months have raised more than $90,000 in an ongoing campaign, said Deborah Squires, VP of impact and marketing for United Way of Snohomish County. That money came from the ship’s crew, not including the air wing.
The dollar figure might not be the crew’s most important contribution, though. Squires said they are huge contributors to the Days of Caring volunteer service event each September.
“I know many military members and their families who volunteer year-round as a way of ‘giving back’ to their home port community,” said Squires, whose husband happens to be a retired base commander from Naval Station Everett. “Then, of course, you get those of us who like it so much here that when we retire we stay!”
Mohr, the port director, is also a trustee for the Snohomish County YMCA, where he sees a different form of influence.
“We have no shortage of coaches or people to help out on the Y programs,” he said. “A lot of these people are Navy personnel.”
The Port of Everett was able to make upgrades to docks and cranes thanks to the Navy’s presence, Mohr said.
“It made us much more of an asset to the aerospace industry here in the process,” he said.
Base has its doubters
Not everyone is impressed with Naval Station Everett’s contribution, economic or otherwise.
“I don’t think downtown Everett has had any benefit. I think Marysville has, other areas have,” said David Mascarenas, a longtime opponent of the base who would like to see more public access to the waterfront.
Like some other people in the area, Mascarenas still believes the 120 acres the base occupies would have been a better fit for a college or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“To me, it was a lot of land out there that could have been better utilized,” he said. “But the city didn’t have a plan for it and the port never has plan for anything.”
The federal government’s Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) has examined closing Naval Station Everett but concluded that would cost more than keeping it open.
In a 2005 report, BRAC concluded that “wherever the ships stationed at Everett would end up, it would be more expensive to operate them.”
Moreover, assets such as natural deepwater access, the report noted, “cannot be replaced at any cost.’’
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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