Due to two new expeditionary squadrons
Emphasis is ours
Navy Looking Into Growler Operations’ Environmental Impact At Whidbey
Posted on InsideDefense.com: September 13, 2013
The Navy has announced its intent to prepare an environmental impact statement for EA-18G Growler airfield operations at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, WA, due to the addition of two new expeditionary squadrons along with of three replacement EA-18G Growler aircraft.
The Navy anticipates making the draft EIS publicly available and to set up public meetings in late spring or early summer 2015 and issue a record of decision in spring 2016, Whidbey Island spokesman Mike Welding told Inside the Navy in an email.
The notice of intent, posted to the Federal Register Sept. 5, follows a federal lawsuit filed July 15 by local activist group the Citizens of the Ebey’s Reserve for a Healthy, Safe and Peaceful Environment, which has been opposing the Navy’s training activities one of the nearby training fields at Whidbey — Outlying Landing Field, Coupeville, due to jet noise for many years. Whidbey Island is the home to all of the Navy’s tactical electronic attack (VAQ) squadrons, including the EA-6B Prowler and the EA-18G Growler.
The EIS is meant to evaluate the potential environmental effects associated with the introduction of the two new expeditionary VAQ squadrons, as per the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
In addition, “the Navy made the decision to include all VAQ operations being conducted at both Ault Field and OLF Coupeville in this NEPA document to thoroughly evaluate both what is occurring now and what is proposed in the future at and in the vicinity of both airfields,” Welding said.
In June, the Navy decided to temporarily suspend field carrier landing practice (FCLP) operations at OLF Coupeville until the end of the calendar year, something the local group opposing the Navy’s activities hailed as a victory. But Welding said that the suspension has had detrimental effects on training.
“That decision has had and continues to create operational impacts, and is not considered to be sustainable for the long term. Conducting all FCLPs at Ault Field interferes with other necessary operations, entailing delays and operational conflicts,” Welding told ITN.
According to the federal notice, the Navy plans to address the effect of the training activities on air quality, noise, land use, socioeconomics, natural resources, biological resources, cultural resources and safety and environmental hazards.
“The analysis will evaluate direct and indirect impacts, and will account for cumulative impacts from other relevant activities near the installation. Relevant and reasonable measures that could avoid or mitigate environmental effects will also be analyzed,” the notice states.
In 2005 and 2012, the Navy prepared environmental analyses for the replacement of the Prowler aircraft with the newer Growler aircraft at Whidbey Island. This upcoming EIS is meant to build on those analyses, Welding said.
“This EIS will comprehensively analyze changes since the 2005 and 2012 NEPA documents, in addition to analyzing the potential impacts of the introduction of two new Expeditionary VAQ squadrons, as well as three new aircraft in the Fleet Replacement Squadron,” he explained.
As part of an effort to meet current and future requirements, the Navy has also proposed to construct and renovate facilities at Ault Field over a three-year period to accommodate the additional aircraft as well as station up to 860 additional personnel and relocate approximately 2,150 family members to Whidbey Island and the surrounding community.
But the additional squadrons, aircraft and personnel are not meant to impact the size of the facility at Whidbey Island, Welding said. “Construction and/or renovation of facilities . . . will likely occur within the boundaries of Ault Field. It is not anticipated that the Navy will need to acquire additional land to support the proposed action,” he explained.
To support the EIS process, the Navy has laid out a scoping process that will be used to identify community concerns and local issues, including three open house information sessions as well as public meetings following the release of the draft EIS.
The Navy will also be setting up a public website associated with the EIS, which will include information about the process along with a sign-up form for the public to be able to receive an electronic copy of the draft EIS when it is completed. It is expected to be available in late spring or early summer 2015, followed by public meetings to discuss the findings during the 45-day comment and agency review period. The Navy anticipates a record of decision in spring 2016.
In its fiscal year 2014 budget request, the Navy asked to fund 21 additional Growlers as part of an effort to “grow the electronic jamming force,” Rear Adm. Joseph Mulloy, the Navy’s deputy assistant secretary of the budget, said in April. Welding would not say whether the EIS will take into account this potential buy of more Growler aircraft. He said that the EIS will be a “comprehensive analysis” of all VAQ operations at Whidbey Island. — Olga Belogolova