Hundreds of people from the North Olympic Peninsula came to Fort Worden in Port Townsend Thursday afternoon to hear the Navy explain their plans for expansion of the Growler air fleet. The Navy had subject matter experts with signage to help explain their plans, which in some cases did clarify issues. (more on that later). Additionally, the Navy provided scribes and the ability for people to get their comments logged to the official record of public comment.
Opponents of the expansion were out in force, and had stations with question banks so people could ask knowledgeable questions. The opposition groups have a great deal of concern about noise pollution, jet pollution, the tie in of this expansion with the Electromagnetic warfare training that the Navy plans to use these planes to test over the west end of the Olympic National Park and Clallam County.
Some interesting questions that were answered were that the Navy has traditionally only scoped a radius of 10 miles from the base. We and the San Juans are about 15 miles away. It took petitioning our government representatives to get the Navy to wave the distance requirement for San Juan and Jefferson County. Speaking of that, many of our local elected officials were present.
Also, the Navy spokesperson was quite clear that the multiple EIS, EAs etc. that the Navy currently has moving, while easily seeming to be a tactic to throw off the civilian opposition to the expansion, in their minds is a work load issue. They just couldn’t take on all of them simultaneously.
Another question that was answered was that the planes are currently not funded in the military budget. It’s assumed they will be, but they could see funding cut at some level. It appears that the plan is for the maximum they want to add with the money they assume will be there.
There appear that are no EIS alternatives that are “no expansion”. The “No action” choice is being used as a ‘baseline’ as they call it, for the others, and the Navy claims it would not meet the goals of the DoD for electronic attack capability. To be clear, the Navy expects to expand their fleet here. The only possibility standing between that expansion is citizen opposition at all levels to change the goals, or have them find another field elsewhere. The Navy seems not interested in those options at all.
It is clear that these folks see their job to sell this expansion to us, as a simple matter economic savings by bringing all the planes and pilots here. Some of the people I spoke with live on the East Coast, have lived with Navy jet noise for years and see it as just the way the world works. It’s up to people here to make the Navy understand that expansion of this base, in a heavily populated area, is not something we have been able to vote on, and that seems to be unstoppable, as the Navy themselves gives no alternative option to growing the base. While people who are openly anti-military attended the meeting, it seemed as if the bulk of the people are simply concerned with the growing noise pollution, threat to the environment, possible unknown health risks from these secret devices on the planes, and feel that it’s better suited to another, more remote base. One where the local population is much smaller, and spread away from the jets and their training.
So there you have it. It’s up to you to decide. They have presented their case. Do you want an expanding world of unmuffled jets, flying an expanded array of sorties throughout the day and night, or will you take some action now to try and put some rational limits on the local growth of this particular base? Do you want to continue to trade away our environment, both as it affects humans and the natural world around us? Do you think that people will continue to come here to camp, fish and sail as the jet noise continues to increase, when they can choose to go elsewhere where it’s quieter? It’s not just about the environment, but it’s also about economic issues.
It is worth noting that we put up with a huge amount of Navy now, and have for decades. Indian Island, Bangor Sub Base and the ongoing closures of the Hood Canal Bridge which ties up commerce, harassment by Coast Guard of recreational sailors for what seems like practice on their part rather than any real concern, noise pollution of jets waking us at midnight, and unknown deaths and injuries to Orcas, whales and other sea life. The Navy admits they kill sea mammals. It’s just a question of how many, not if they will or not.
The Navy sees this all as part of their job to protect us. They are nice people, many with families too. They feel very patriotic about their job and they should. But they work for us, not a bunch of shareholders and stock. We are the ones that would have to say, “thanks’ but we have enough Navy here now, and your plans don’t fit this place. You are not actually saving us money if your consequences impact our economy. We have a unique environment with endangered species, some which are impacted severely by noise. We are not some part of the country that has already been trashed, and has nowhere to go but up. We really are in the middle. We’ve lost a lot, but have a lot more to lose. We can go either down or up in our quality of life. We have families that come here from all over the world, because it’s quiet and beautiful. They can go outside to fabulous mountains, rivers, lakes and the ocean, and expect peace and quiet. It’s not Seattle, or some other noisy big city. If they need to do this, they need to go somewhere much more remote. “
It’s a long shot to take this on, but if you don’t, no one else will.
by Al Bergstein