By Ande Finley
Special to the Journal
Citizens in the San Juans have recently learned about an environmental impact study that is being conducted by the Navy to evaluate the potential environmental and health effects of adding 10 Growlers (EA-18G electronic attack aircraft) to the expeditionary force and three Growler aircraft to the training squadron at NAS Whidbey in Oak Harbor.
In addition, the Navy is proposing to continue and increase Growler operations at both Ault Field in Oak Harbor and OLF Coupeville, and has agreed to a three-year program of training Australian pilots to fly EA-18G’s, which will bring an additional 12 aircraft to NAS Whidbey.
Earlier this year, Coupeville’s Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve were successful at getting a temporary suspension of flight training at OLF Coupeville by filing a lawsuit, alleging that the field, built for World War II planes, does not meet Navy requirements for use with modern jets and has dangerous crash zones overlapping with homes and businesses.
The flights at OLF increased from 3,200 in 2010 to 13,300 in 2012, and that number is likely to go up with addition of new squadrons. Their website (http://citizensofebeysreserve.com/Issues.html) characterizes the Central Whidbey experience of frequent flyovers with higher-noise levels than ever before as, “living underneath a full-time high-velocity runway.”
Lopez southenders are all too familiar with the impacts of the NAS Whidbey Growler program, which has now spread farther and farther north on the island. Flights can occur any day of the work week and the invasive noise of engine run-ups can go on until well after midnight, rattling windows at potentially damaging decibel levels even inside buildings.
“I personally experience the sound as a shattering of the atmosphere, both externally and internally. I don’t hear it in my head, rather, I feel it in my gut,” Lopez resident Angie Ponder reported in the Dec. 4th issue of Orcas Issues: News & Reports. “It engenders a sort of pre-conscious stress response which I suspect is related to the ‘frequency’ of the sound, which is somewhat lower than that of the Prowler.”
Concerns among the island communities are not limited to the effects of noise levels. There have been eyewitness reports of jet-fuel dumping over Smith and Minor islands, west of Whidbey, both are national wildlife refuges surrounded by the largest kelp beds in the Salish Sea, key to sea life in this marine environment.
Impacts of jet fuel exhaust and emissions on air and water quality, and on agricultural activities, need to be considered, as well as the incompatibility of jet noise with the beauty and quiet on which the San Juan economy, based in great part on tourism, depends.
As with the recent Cherry Point coal export terminal EIS, scoping is an early and open process where the public is invited to help identify issues to be studied. The scoping period ends on Jan. 3. If you share any of these concerns, make your voice heard at www.whidbeyeis.com, and write to your state and federal congressional representatives and your county council member. For more information, or a sample of a scoping comment letter, contact Cynthia Dilling at email@example.com.
— Editor’s note: A contributing writer for the Islands Weekly, Ande Finley lives on the south end of Lopez Island and belongs to a group concerned about impacts of noise and activity of Navy Jets stationed on nearby Whidbey Island.