NAVY CONCEDES NEED TO PREPARE AN ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT ADDRESSING OPERATIONS AT NAVAL AIR STATION WHIDBEY ISLAND
In response to a federal lawsuit filed July 15, 2013, by Citizens of the Ebey’s Reserve for a Healthy, Safe and Peaceful Environment (“COER”), the Navy today issued a Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) addressing the impact of current and future operations at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island including operations at the Coupeville Outlying Field (“OLF-Coupeville”).
“Members of COER are of course ecstatic that the Navy has finally conceded that a complete environmental analysis is necessary” said David Mann, the Seattle-based attorney for the Citizens organization. “It is unfortunate that it required that we file federal litigation to get the Navy’s attention, but we are pleased that we provided the necessary catalyst for action. Finally, the Navy will take a hard-look at the environmental and health impacts of its flight operations at OLF-Coupeville on both surrounding neighbors and the natural environment of Ebey’s Reserve” said Mann.
The Navy last addressed flight operations at OLF-Coupeville in 2005 during initial planning to transition its aging AE-6 “Prowler” jets to the newer “Growler” a version of the FA18F Super Hornet fighter equipped to jam enemy radar and radio communications. In its abbreviated environmental assessment (“EA”) the Navy concluded it did not need to perform an EIS because noise impacts from the Growlers would be less than from the Prowlers. The Navy basis for this claim was that there would be fewer overall and fewer nighttime operations at OLF-Coupeville. The Navy also claimed that the Growler was quieter than the Prowler for most operations.
Navy documents confirmed however, that by 2012 the number of operations and number of nighttime operations at OLF-Coupeville had both significantly increased over 2005 projected levels. Noise monitoring done by a COER retained acoustic engineer further confirmed that noise levels inside nearby homes exceeded 81 decibels and outdoors exceeded 134 decibels challenging the Navy’s assertion that the Growler would be quieter than the Prowler. According to the National Institutes of Health, permanent hearing loss can occur at 115 to 120 decibels.
After confirming both increased noise and increased flight operations, COER formally requested that the Navy re-open environmental review of its operations in early June 2013. After receiving no response CER filed its federal lawsuit on July 15, 2013.