By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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“We need to examine the impact of this noise on humans,” said retired lawyer Ken Pickard, who grew up near Coupeville.
“Noise has a toxic impact on environmental health, and this jet noise makes us feel like we are under attack.”
Added Whidbey resident Michael Monson: “When they are flying, we have to wear hearing protection in our own homes.”
More than 60 people attended Monday night's public meeting at downtown Port Townsend's Cotton Building that was sponsored by Citizens of the Ebey's Reserve, or COER.
At issue is the noise generated by exercises conducted using EA-18G Growler jets out of the Navy's Outlying Landing Field near Coupeville, just across Admiralty Inlet from Port Townsend.
Citizens complained about the noise last year, leading to the commencement of a new environmental-impact statement that opened a comment period in September and led to three public meetings organized by the Navy in Oak Harbor, Coupeville and Anacortes in December.
No meeting was scheduled on the North Olympic Peninsula or at any other location.
“The noise consequences affect people in Port Townsend,” said City Councilwoman Michelle Sandoval.
“We are part of the same neighborhood.”
Several citizen comments and a request from the city of Port Townsend extended the comment period to Jan. 31.
The comments will be published this spring, but the environmental-impact-statement process has many steps, including the publishing of a draft in 2015 and the full report a year later, according to U.S. Fleet Forces Command spokesman Ted Brown.
In the meantime, the Navy plans to adhere to and not exceed 6,120 yearly field carrier landing exercises annually, which was determined as a safe level in a 2005 impact statement.
The Coupeville Outlying Landing Field is used to train pilots how to land on an aircraft carrier.
They approach the 5,400-foot runway, land and immediately take off, a process that counts as two carrier landing practices, according to Brown.
On an aircraft carrier, which is about 1,000 feet long, a cable is used to slow the plane, so knowing how to take off and land is an essential piloting skill should the cable not properly attach.
Monday's meeting in Port Townsend was meant to generate comments about the jet noise before the deadline, with the purpose of getting the Navy to pay attention to the health impacts of the jets and to ultimately move the exercises to another location, organizers said.
No representative of the Navy was present at the meeting either to address the group or report what was said, according to Mike Welding, spokesman for Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
Welding said he regularly receives press releases from COER that he uses along with local news reports and other information to stay up-to-date on the issue.
“We want to be good neighbors and will listen to anything people say about the potential health impact,” Welding said.
Karen Bowman, a public health nurse from Seattle, also presented her findings at Monday's meeting.
Bowman said people in proximity to airports often suffer noise-induced trauma that has a cascading health effect, including sleep disruption, hormone disruption, hypertension and gastrointestinal problems.
“One of the most common results of these tests is sleep loss, which can weaken your immune system and increase your susceptibility to viral infection,” she said.
“If things get too loud, we also have cognitive problems. We can't learn new tasks, and we have problems with memory.”
Bowman didn't test the effects of the noise on individuals but said she observed the results firsthand at a meeting “when a lot of the people who reported these problems had the same facial expressions as those who have suffered from PTSD.”
“This got me really angry, as a community health advocate,” she said.
COER plans to present the same program at other locations: Feb. 12 on Lopez Island and Feb. 15 in Langley. Visits to the San Juan Islands and La Conner are to be scheduled.
During Monday's meeting, several attending said they did not trust the Navy or the government to fix the problem or even pay attention, which Brown disputes.
“There are several opportunities for people to comment, and if someone has data about how health is affected, it will go into the report,” he said.
While there are several official avenues for comment, COER has established its own 24-hour hotline at 800-830-4078.
The COER website is at www.citizensofebeysreserve.com.
To submit comments by mail, write to EA-18G EIS Project Manager (Code EV21/SS), Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Atlantic, 6506 Hampton Blvd., Norfolk, VA 23508.
Comments for the environmental-impact statement also can be submitted at www.whidbeyeis.com.
Noise complaints can be made at http://tinyurl.com/pdn-wicomment-pdf. After completing the form, email to comments.NASWI@navy.mil.
There also is a comment line at 360-257-6665 and an email address at comments.NASWI@navy.mil.
All other questions can be directed to the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island Public Affairs Office at 360-257-2286.
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.