An open letter to Rick Larsen

Dear Congressman Larsen:

Thank you for your letter of January 10, in response to my e-mail to you about the threat to the health and safety of civilians by jet aircraft on Whidbey Island.

Your letter says, “I am committed to ensuring that NAS Whidbey Island remains one of the preeminent military installations used by our armed forces, while also ensuring that those who live near the base are not negatively impacted by base operations.”

But we are negatively impacted by base operations, and we have been at least since 1982, when I moved to Oak Harbor and discovered, after I had moved in, that planes were flying low over my house during the day and as late as midnight in the summertime. Until I retired in 1996, I went to work the day after the midnight flights deprived of sleep. Over the years I have gradually become so deaf that it is pointless to attend meetings of more than a few people because I can’t hear what they are saying. It was particularly distressing not to be able to hear what the children and friends of Trudy Sundberg were saying at her memorial service. It is continually distressing not to be able to hear the tones in music; music now sounds like racket to me.

As bad as it has been for me, I know that it has been many times worse for people living near the OLF in Coupeville; and since the Growlers came, it has been even worse than it was before. A Dec. 23, 2013, story on the front page of the Seattle Times, headlined “Roaring Controversy,” says, “For the past six years, Babette Thompson has lived in a brown, cedar-sided house on Whidbey Island overlooking Saratoga Passage. Sometimes Navy planes flew past. Then there were more. And more. One day as a Navy Growler flew overhead, the vibrations were so intense the glass covering a watercolor in her hall shattered. Not far from her home, another house sustained nearly $14,000 in window damage from jet vibrations, according to the homeowner.”

I wondered why the homeowner was not identified. I don’t know the answer to that, but a possible reason is fear of retaliation. There are some vicious people on Whidbey Island who don’t like anti-OLF supporters, and not all of their venom is verbal. Becky Spraitzer of Oak Harbor had an anti-OLF sign in her yard defaced. A sparkler bomb thrown into her yard was luckily put out before it set the grass on fire. Joe Kunzler threatened to publish names, addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of anti-OLF supporters — probably not so that others could contact them to thank them, since he called this his “nuclear option.” Some people who live under the planes say they are afraid to speak out.

There is plenty of documented evidence (apart from testimony) that the Growlers cause hearing loss. Here is a passage from the Navy’s safety center website:
“The Navy considers any sound above 84dB as noise hazardous, or having the potential to cause hearing loss. Prolonged noise at levels greater than 84dB over an eight-hour period may result in temporary, and gradually permanent, hearing loss. The louder the sound and more prolonged the exposure, the shorter amount of time it takes to cause permanent hearing loss.”

Here is a passage from a report about how loud the Growlers are, from the Citizens of the Ebey’s Reserve website:

“According to PMA265 representatives, the F/A-18E/F aircraft emits, and the EA-18G will emit, a maximum of 150 dBs, which is well above the noise level considered hazardous to hearing (greater than 84 dBs). According to PMA265, they made no initial attempts to mitigate the flight-line/deck jet noise hazard through design selection. This is contrary to the system safety design order of precedence specified in the MIL-STD-882D.”

For the EIS study, the Navy has suggested averaging the number of decibels Growlers expose civilians to, factoring zero decibels (when planes are not flying) into the average. Does it seem to you that would give an accurate measure of what people are hearing? To my mind, what that suggestion measures is the Navy’s fear of an accurate study.

It is a very bad decision to keep the OLF open while the study is being done. Even if the study finally shows that OLF has to be closed because it violates environmental law, keeping it open means two more years of torture for the people of Coupeville; permanent hearing loss for some of them; air pollution from fuel dumps in the air; risk of jets crashing into civilians’ houses.

What is this torture and risk weighed against? Fear that if the Navy can’t do its practice flights at OLF Coupeville, it will move the whole base and destroy the economy of Whidbey Island? Even if the Navy would do that, even if loss of the base would destroy the economy (and that either of these things would happen is pure speculation), is it OK to sacrifice the health and safety of some civilians for economic prosperity for others? There are bad historical precedents for that choice, starting with the claim that to abolish slavery would be to destroy the economy of the South.

Rick, I appeal to you: Please reverse your position on keeping the OLF open.

Ann Adams

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