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Naval Station Everett is the second largest employer in Snohomish County and contributes $318 million annually to the local economy.

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Jim Davis, Editor
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Published: Thursday, April 18, 2013

Naval Station Everett chief optimistic amid uncertainty

EVERETT — Capt. Michael Coury delivered his final State of the Station address Thursday amid the backdrop of heightened international tensions with North Korea and Iran, the bombing at the Boston Marathon and new federal budget constraints.

Coury seemed a little wistful as he started his speech.

"I leave knowing the base is in capable hands," he said of the sailors serving at Naval station Everett. "I will truly miss working with such a capable team."

Naval Station Everett, under Coury's command since 2010, should be well positioned for the future as the Navy moves 60 percent of its ships to the Asia-Pacific region by 2020. The question is how new federal budget constraints under sequestration will affect those plans and the Navy's desire to increase its ship count from 286 to 295 by then, Coury said.

Sequestration has meant lots of belt tightening as the Navy focuses on "mission critical" items, he said. That means no more overtime pay and reductions in groundskeeping, utilities and morale, welfare and recreation services for sailors.

The budget turmoil also forced Coury to eliminate community outreach efforts this year, so the base won't have its annual open house and ship tours in July.

"We are adapting and we will succeed," Coury said.

But for the Navy's 200,000 civilian employees, 14 upcoming furlough days will equal a 20 percent discretionary pay cut, he said. The Navy recognizes that hardship and is working to minimize it.

Naval Station Everett's three frigates, USS Ford, USS Rodney M. Davis and USS Ingraham, will be decommissioned in coming years and will be replaced by three destroyers, Coury said. The plan was announced last year, but the Navy hasn't finalized the moves while sequestration forces it to juggle dollars between budgets.

Another wild card: The Base Closure and Realignment Commission will meet in 2015 and 2017 to consider which military bases to keep and which to recommend for closure.

Regardless, "Naval Station Everett stands fully quipped to meet that transition," Coury said.

Despite the new budget reality, Coury said Naval Station Everett and its ships are moving ahead with intensive energy conservation efforts as part of the Navy's Great Green Fleet. The USS Nimitz demonstrated the use of 100 percent biofuel for its jet wing during recent RIMPAC exercises in Hawaii, he said. Last year, the USS Ford became the first Navy ship to sail on a biofuel blend.

Shoreside, Coury has bas been leading environmental stewardship efforts. The base has plans to install a wind turbine and electric-vehicle charging stations. Its diesel-powered vehicles run a B20 biofuel blend and its gasoline-powered vehicles run on E85 ethanol. Energy consumption around the base has been reduced by 28 percent to 90 percent and its buildings rate among the top 25 percent most efficient in the world.

"We're doing our part to conserve," Coury said.

After Coury finished his speech, Port of Everett executive director John Mohr asked how Everett could "BRAC-proof" Naval Station Everett from possible closure.

Coury couldn’t make specific suggestions, but he said the community’s support of Snohomish County’s second largest employer, which pumps about $318 million into the local economy, is critical to keeping Naval Station Everett open and the county’s support of the base and its sailors is “tremendous.”

"But again, I must remain apolitical on the issue," he said.

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson expressed an optimistic tone.

"This is the base that most bases try to become," he said. To call Naval Station Everett " 'the sailors' choice' isn't just a mantra. This is the No. 1 base for where all sailors want to be assigned."

Coury reflects the mayor's sentiment.

"I'm hoping I can stay on here a couple of more years" after the upcoming change of command, he said. And if he's reassigned to another base, he still plans to return to Snohomish County.

"My wife and I will retire here," he said.

Kurt Batdorf: 425-339-3102; kbatdorf@heraldnet.com.