Whidbey Island group sues Navy, says jet noise unbearable
By NANCY BARTLEY
Seattle Times staff reporter
A Coupeville citizens group is suing the U.S. Navy, saying noise from jets using a Whidbey Island airfield is too loud and disrupts their lives.
The residents say they must wear headphones to bed to block out the noise, Little Leaguers have to cover their ears as jets roar past during games and livestock is being injured by the sound.
The group, Citizens of the Ebey’s Reserve for a Healthy, Safe & Peaceful Environment, filed the lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court in Seattle.
The lawsuit alleges the Navy failed to conduct a required environmental review before it began using Outlying Field near Coupeville for practice by aircraft from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.
The airfield was developed during the 1940s for Navy planes, and since 2008 has been a practice site for Growler aircraft touchandgo landings.
The lawsuit was filed, said Cate Andrews, one of the people who instigated it, because the Navy refused to listen to their complaints. The suit asks that the Navy be restricted from using the field for flight practice.
“We had to retain an attorney because that’s the only way the Navy takes you seriously,’’ she said.
The airfield is near the Ebey Landing Reserve, a National Historical Reserve that is a popular site for recreation.
The Navy issued a statement saying it would be inappropriate to comment on the pending litigation.
The Navy did agree to suspend landing practice at the field through the end of the year. But doing so would create “operational impacts” that would “not be sustainable for the long
term,’’ according to the statement. Using another field will “interfere with other necessary operations, entailing delays and operational conflicts.”
The residents want a permanent fix that would force the Navy to take the jets elsewhere.
In 2005 the Navy did an environmental assessment when it was first planning to exchange the aging Prowler planes being used at the naval air station for the newer Growlers, a variant of the FA18F Super Hornet fighter equipped to jam enemy radar and radio communications.
At the time, the environmental assessment concluded the impact on residents would be less, because fewer planes would be taking off and landing. Instead, the complaint says, the number of takeoffs and landings has increased.
Based on Navy data, the complaint says that 9,669 flight operations were conducted at the field last year. From January to May 2013, there were 5,688.
In 2005, there were 7,682 for the year, according to the complaint.
The citizens who filed the complaint hired a consultant to do decibellevel testing. Inside the homes, the noise level was at 95 decibels and outside it was 139 when jets flew over.
According to the National Institutes of Health, permanent hearing loss can occur at 115 to 120 decibels.
“This is where schoolchildren are playing,’’ Andrews said. “Most of us, if not all of us, wear sound protection to bed.”
In the statement, the Navy said it would notify the public if officials determined another environmental assessment is necessary.
Nancy Bartley: firstname.lastname@example.org or 2064648522