As the Navy moves toward preparing an environmental impact statement to justify its continued training and testing of a growing fleet of jet aircraft at two airfields on Whidbey Island, San Juan and Lopez islanders living within easy earshot of NAS Whidbey are raising their voices to express concerns about their quality of life.
Two weeks after a Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve group returned from a visit to Washington D.C., which included talking with mid-level Pentagon bureaucrats about noise from FA-18 “Growlers,” a contingent of Lopezians and San Juan County officials will travel to Whidbey Island to receive a “command briefing” from the base commander and see the noisemakers themselves lined up at Ault Field.
“It’s tragic that the noise has gotten to this level,” said musician Stanley Greenthal from his home on Lopez, where he has lived since 1971. “The intense noise from the EA-18G Growlers is truly an assault upon the senses. Individual flyovers combined with ground shaking multiple engine run-ups at the N.A.S. often go on for many hours, from morning into the evening.”
Greenthal’s wife, Kip, noted that the couple has quietly endured the noise for many years. But the disruptions have intensified in the last eight months. She said that they are now smelling exhaust or jet fuel while walking in their yard.
“The recent escalation has prompted us the take an active stance,” Stanley added. “We realize their job is important, but there must be a balance with our lives.”
Lopez islanders led by Cynthia Dilling and County Councilmen Jamie Stephens of Lopez and Bob Jarman of San Juan are heading for NAS Whidbey to tour the facility April 14 and talk with Captain Mike Nortier, who took command at the naval air station about a year ago.
Stephens, who said that the visit is billed as a learning and listening tour, expects people to also speak up about their problems with the noise.
On Whidbey, the Ebey Landing group, in addition to wanting the closure of Outlying Landing Field Coupeville, is now calling for the transfer of more than 40,000 annual training flights to remote naval air stations in Nevada and California, or even Moses Lake.
Led by Michael Monson, the COER group met with Senator Maria Cantwell, Rep. Rick Larsen and staffers from the offices of Sen. Patty Murray and Reps. Adam Smith, Suzan Del Bene and Derek Kilmer.
After the meeting, Larsen emailed this comment to the Journal: “Dialogue between the community and the Navy is important. I have assisted in making this happen and will continue to do so. I will continue to be a strong supporter of the Navy.”
Monson is happy with the meeting. “It was a better reception that we expected. He was fully informed, he had done his homework,” Monson said of Larsen.
The group also met with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the Pentagon, the National Park Service, the Department of the Interior, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Friends Committee on National Legislation.
Brian Silverstein, who has been coming to Lopez with family for 30 years and has lived on Aleck Bay for six, is retired from a position with the Bonneville Power Administration in Portland, where he worked on more than a few environmental impact statements.
He expressed concern about the Navy’s EIS, including the fact that even though the Navy conducted a scoping process to determine what they would investigate, the Navy wouldn’t issue a “scoping report” with its conclusion.
“We issued scoping reports for every EIS I was involved with,” Silverstein said. “So should the Navy.”
Another important issue for the EIS, according to Silverstein, is the Navy’s reliance on a Day-Night Average Sound Level calculation, which is a determination based on statistical modeling, instead of actual on-the-ground scientific noise measurements.
“Computer simulations are helpful, but the Navy needs actual sound tests,” he said. “It’s important they hire third-party experts to run tests over time, without notice to the Navy when the tests are run.”
Another problem noted by Silverstein is that the Navy is not considering alternatives to their present testing and training plan.
“They can’t just dismiss our concerns because they don’t consider Lopez a high-noise area,” he said. “We can’t even carry on a conversation for several minutes during the static engine run-ups.”
Neither the Whidbey or Lopez activists are claiming victory, but the fact that NAS Whidbey has continued its suspension of flights at OLF Coupeville has encouraged Monson and his group. Monson points out that the Navy is continuing its pilot training – “elsewhere” – and maybe will decide to just stop using the WW II-era runway near Coupeville.
But if the Navy were to close OLF, some people on Lopez, Dilling included, believe more training missions may be shifted to Ault Field, located closer to Lopez, and that may result in even more jet noise headed their way.