Health effects move to forefront of protest over 'Growlers'

A Whidbey Island group claims that noise from Navy
A Whidbey Island group claims that noise from Navy's EA-18G electronic aircraft (above), aka Growler, is a health hazard.
— image credit: Contributed photo/neptunuslex

Lopez Island residents, upset about EA-18 "Growler" jet noise from planes at Naval Air Station Whidbey, will meet with Whidbey Island activists on Feb. 12 to discuss the noise issue and what might be done about it.

Citizens of Ebey's Reserve for Healthy, Safe and Peaceful Environment will be telling Lopez residents that COER is shifting its focus from the Outlying Field near Coupeville, which COER wants closed, to larger questions of basing the EA-18 at NAS Whidbey and conducting low-level "touch-and-go" training exercises at either Ault Field at NAS Whidbey near Oak Harbor or OLF Coupeville.

In a Jan. 14 press release, COER President Michael Monson announced that the organization is now seeking removal of the jets from Whidbey Island, not just stopping further use of OLF Coupeville for Navy "touch and go" carrier landing exercises.

For 2013, the Navy estimated it would conduct more than 31,000 "closed pattern" training operations at Ault Field and OLF Coupeville, including 5,300 operations between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. Because the Navy suspended some training operations at OLF Coupeville for about half of 2013, the number at OLF Coupeville was considerably reduced, to about 5,000.

"It is now our position that the Growlers must go, and we are making that case to our state and national elected officials and communities throughout the region," Monson said.

Part of "making that case" extends to Lopez and San Juan islands, and to Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula. The meeting in Port Townsend is Jan. 27 at the Cotton Building in Port Townsend; the location of the Feb. 12 meeting on Lopez Island has not been announced.

On San Juan Island, former San Juan County Councilman Howie Rosenfeld, a former public health professional, says he has recently heard "loud" jet noise "from over the horizon" at his home in Friday Harbor and is interested in finding out more about the issue, especially because he once lived on Whidbey Island and remembers the noise problems.

Other COER meetings have been scheduled on Guemes Island, Jan. 28, and at Langley on Whidbey Island, Feb. 15. Also important to making the case, according to Ken Pickard, an environmental attorney who lives near the OLF, was for COER to do its own noise testing and obtaining scientific input on health effects from environmental health specialists. The health effects, according to Pickard, are "extensive and serious."

Pickard also said that COER is attempting to interest U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray in the issue but has heard only from Cantwell's office. Congressman Rick Larsen, who was instrumental in keeping the base open in the face of attempts to close it, commented that he "supports the Navy entering into an environmental review process to take all issues under consideration."

After COER filed a lawsuit in federal court in Seattle, the Navy suspended training flights at the Coupeville airfield and announced the EIS. The training flights were resumed in the last few days. While awaiting the EIS results, expected in 2015, the lawsuit has been "suspended," according to COER.

In response to requests from San Juan County Councilman Jamie Stevens and others, the Navy extended the comment period for scoping phase of the Environmental Impact Statement being conducted to study the impacts of adding an additional squadron to the fleet of EA-18s at NAS Whidbey.

That additional comment period ends Jan. 31. The Navy says additional meeting would not be added to the three scoping meetings held in 2013.



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