Navy raises number of jets proposed at Whidbey Island base, raising more East Jefferson noise issues

By Mark St.J. Couhig
Peninsula Daily News

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The controversy over the noisy jets at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island likely will soon grow in volume.

U.S. Fleet Forces Command spokesman Ted Brown said this week that the Navy is looking at “the potential addition of up to 36 EA-18G Growler aircraft” at the station.

An earlier proposal called for an additional 14 jets.

The Navy announced this week that the plan would be published in the Federal Register today.

It’s included in a proposal to revise the scope of the ongoing, and often contentious, process to create an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Growler airfield operations at the station.

The new proposal includes notice of a new series of public scoping meetings to gather community input on the revised plan.

Public comment will be taken through Nov. 24.

Port Townsend Mayor David King said the proposal likely will leave some Port Townsend residents “very upset,” not least because the Navy has again failed to schedule any of its public meetings on the North Olympic Peninsula.

King gave the Navy credit for improving their communications, noting that prior to the announcement of public meetings on the EIS that were held in December 2013, the Navy gave the city no notice.

This time, he said, he was given a heads-up.

King said he’s forwarded the Navy’s announcement to members of the Port Townsend City Council.

“We’ll talk about it at some point,” he said.

King said the proposal likely will strike a raw nerve because it specifically calls for an increase in the noisiest flights as the pilots practice on land the short runway techniques used for aircraft carrier takeoffs and landings.

Those require much more power, he said.

The sound carries across Admiralty Inlet to Port Townsend and other areas on the Peninsula.

King said he’s been contacted by a number of residents who are concerned about the flights.

He said he has been suggesting that those who want to protest the change should contact Citizens of the Ebey’s Reserve, an activist group on the island that seeks to “close OLF Coupeville and remove the EA18G Growler from North Puget Sound,” according to its website at www.citizensofebeysreserve.com.

Started in 2103

The Navy originally started work on the EIS in September 2013 to evaluate the potential environmental impacts that would result from the addition of two new expeditionary squadrons on the island, along with 14 additional Growler aircraft.

Brown said in the spring that Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert submitted an unfunded requirements list as part of the president’s budget for 2015.

The list includes a request to purchase 22 additional Growler aircraft.

“While it’s unclear whether more Growlers will ultimately be procured, the Navy is electing to analyze the potential for these aircraft in order to be proactive and transparent,” Brown said.

Brown said the Navy hopes to increase the existing training squadron operations at NAS Whidbey Island’s Ault Field and OLF Coupeville, along with “up to 36 aircraft.”

The plan calls for renovating facilities at Ault Field to accommodate the additional aircraft.

Additional personnel also would be required to live at the station and in the local community.

Brown said the three meetings on the revised EIS will be informal, consisting of information stations staffed by Navy representatives.

The meetings will be conducted from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

A Coupeville meeting is set Tuesday, Oct. 28, at Coupeville High School, 501 S. Main St.

Meetings also are set in Oak Harbor and Anacortes.

Additional information about the EIS can be found on the project website at www.whidbeyeis.com.

Written comments can be submitted to the EA-18G EIS Project Manager, Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Atlantic, Attn: Code EV21/SS, 6506 Hampton Blvd., Norfolk, VA 23508.

Comments also can be submitted online at the project website and at scoping meetings.

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Reporter Mark Couhig can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at mcouhig@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: October 09. 2014 7:02PM
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