The Navy has lost touch with the people it serves
This was clear in their unusual release yesterday of a “preferred alternative” for operational limits in the Navy’s current Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for EA18-G “Growler” expansion at NAS Whidbey Island. According to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) guidelines, the Navy’s preferred opinion should have been included in the Draft EIS many months ago.
Additionally, the Navy’s new preferred alternative, Alternative 2, Scenario A seems deaf to the over 4,000 plus comments received from citizens. COER had hoped for a better solution than the preferred option the Navy just advanced.
Their inflexibility is always a surprise. The Navy’s thinking demonstrates their lack of willingness to find a livable solution for a community they continually say they appreciate as good neighbors. COER will be working in collaboration over the next two months with groups representing over 25,000 to seek a better option. We hope the Navy will be willing to participate.
The Navy ’s desire to keep the EA18G Growler training mission at NASWI and at OLF makes them apparently willing to sacrifice Whidbey Island and all resulting damages to the surrounding Puget Sound communities — for the sake of their never-ending warfare mission.
Worst Case Scenario
Alternative 2 is the worst case scenario for the residents of Central Whidbey, as operations at the Coupeville OLF would be increased from 6,100 to 23,700 per year, a 400% increase. People who live in the San Juans will hear all 88,000 operations, also an increase, as jets leave and return from Ault field.
Ault Field will also be seeing more flights (88,000 operations), but the impacts are not equivalent to FCLPs. And if you live between Ault Field and OLF in the Interfacility Traffic Area, you will be seeing four times as much traffic as you do now.
The last time we saw these huge increases on Whidbey island was during the Vietnam war. As fourth generation farmer Al Sherman says in the film Plane Truths, “we just don’t believe they can’t go somewhere else.”
The 24K operations in Alternative 2 are a decrease from the initial EIS proposal. This is due to the Navy’s new Magic Carpet landing software newly activated and a reduced number of pilots per squadron – but don’t be fooled. This is no decrease. 23,700 operations is a 4-fold increase over the current levels of 6,100 that is the current maximum at OLF.
Alternative 2, Scenario A increases the number of operations and pursuant to Navy regulations, will require that Island County downzone properties surrounding the OLF, particularly those to the North and West of the field, to create accident prevention zones (APZs). This would significantly reduce property values and the Island County tax base. Island County taxpayers, and not the Navy, will be responsible for the funding to purchase properties condemned under this plan. The decreased valuation in affected properties will cause taxes on non-affected properties – even those on Camano Island – to increase.
We should be very clear to say ‘no’ to downzones on the basis that APZs are a consequence of the national defense and should therefore be paid for by the federal government condemning property – not by the county downzoning or condemning it for what may end up being a short duration of time required for strength adjustments.
The Town of Coupeville and Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, which rely upon tourism, would be particularly hard hit.
While downplaying the direct impacts of this Growler expansion, the Navy’s Section 106 investigation acknowledges that there will be “indirect” impacts upon the Central Whidbey Historic District. The Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve will be negatively impacted and like the Forest Service employees who have taken their bosses to court for giving the Navy permits to do warfare training – we should fight the military use of our national parks and reserves. Congress establishes the uses of these special places and warfare training is NOT one of them.
COER has consistently called for the Navy to recognize that the Growler basing at NAS Whidbey is unsupportable given the population increases throughout the region and the sound profile of the Growler. The noise of the Growler cannot be mitigated – it must be moved. The Coupeville OLF does not, and cannot, meet minimum Navy standards for outlying fields and this has required that the Navy grant itself a waiver from its own rules. This means that it is unsafe for pilots in training, as Navy policies call for OLF’s to be 8,000 feet long. The OLF is less than 6,000 ft. long and has many other deficiencies, which the Navy should fix or close the field. Furthermore, a 1998 EIS done by the Navy with regard to Growler basing on the West Coast rejected Whidbey Island in favor of the master jet base in Lemoore, California. The Navy has refused to include relocation of Growlers as one of its EIS alternatives and it has been mute on its decision to base all EA18G Growlers on Whidbey Island.
COER Responds to the Navy’s Announcement
COER calls upon the community and our elected representatives to oppose this Navy alternative and say ‘no’ to APZs. We continue to request the Navy consider relocating all Growler training operations to appropriate dual-sited locations, and end low-level FCLP and electronic warfare training at NASWI.