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Newsletter, January 2022

COMPROMISE?

On December 27, 2021 the Seattle Times editorial board called upon us to compromise with the Navy over Growler training over Whidbey Island.  Other newspapers printed similar editorials.  The COER board spent a considerable amount of time drafting an Op Ed in reply to the call from the Times.  We thought that since the Times’ editorial board took the time to call for compromise, that they would be interested in our history with the Navy.  Apparently not!  Our Op Ed hasn’t been printed, and it seems unlikely it will be.  So this month’s newsletter will consist of a reprint of the Times’ editorial, followed by the complete text of the Op Ed we submitted to the Times in response.


The Seattle Times editorial:

“Navy and Whidbey Island advocates need compromise on jet noise”

Dec. 27, 2021 at 1:32 pm Updated Dec. 27, 2021 at 1:32 pm

By The Seattle Times editorial board

In the long running legal feud between the U.S. Navy and residents of Whidbey Island over jet noise, few bon mots come as close as those written by Chief United States Magistrate Justice J. Richard Creatura.

His words underscore the need for a reset in community-Navy relations, and the opportunity for compromise.

The Navy, a presence on Whidbey Island since 1942, wants to expand the number of EA-18G “Growler” aircraft that train at its facility north of Oak Harbor.

The Growler is basically the same type of aircraft flown by the Navy’s Blue Angels aerial acrobatics team, only outfitted to jam enemy communications. As anyone knows from Seafair and the Blue Angels’ annual visit to Seattle, these jets can be ear-splittingly loud.

Thus the dispute and legal machinations.

Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve — named for a conservation area on the island — wants to relocate Growler operations somewhere else. The advocacy group, joined by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, challenged the Navy’s 2018 final environmental impact statement and 2019 record of decision expanding Growler operations at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

The Navy cherry-picked data to support its goal of increasing Growler operations, Judge Creatura wrote in a Dec. 10 report.

“The Navy did this at the expense of the public and the environment, turning a blind eye to data that would not support this intended result,” wrote Creatura. “Or, to borrow the words of noted sports analyst Vin Scully, the Navy appears to have used certain statistics ‘much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.’ ”

Ouch.

It wasn’t data about noise that concerned Creatura so much, but he determined Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve had rightfully raised objections to the Navy’s failure to accurately disclose greenhouse gas emissions, quantify the impacts on classroom learning, determine impacts on birds and consider an alternate training site in California.

Creatura’s report will go to U.S. District Judge Richard Jones for a final decision.

Now is a good time to hash out a compromise. The state’s congressional delegation, particularly Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, and chairperson of the House Armed Services Committee, should step in.

The Navy has deep roots in Whidbey Island, and few challenge its need for well-trained pilots. What’s more, the Navy significantly contributes to the economies of Everett and Oak Harbor.

With this judicial scolding, the Navy should rethink its approach to its critics on Whidbey Island. The service should make a good-faith effort to document the impacts of its aircraft on the community and the environment, and take steps to mitigate them.

Instead of facing off for another round in court, both sides should sit down and negotiate a compromise that serves their respective needs.

The Seattle Times editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Luis Carrasco, Alex Fryer, Jennifer Hemmingsen, Mark Higgins, Derrick Nunnally and William K. Blethen (emeritus).”


COER’S RESPONSE TO THE SEATTLE TIMES

“In the long running feud between the U.S. Navy and residents of Whidbey Island over jet noise. . . .”  So begins the Seattle Times’ call for Congressman Adam Smith to step in to help reach a compromise between the Navy and residents.

Citizens of the Ebey’s Reserve (COER) agrees that it is time for Congress and the chair of the Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith, to step in and help forge a remedy to the on-going dispute between the Navy and the communities of Northwest Washington over military jet noise and pollution.

This “long running feud” dates back to the introduction of military jets to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NASWI) in the mid-1960s in conjunction with the change of the base’s mission from coastal defense to warfare training.  The people of Whidbey, including the Board of Island County Commissioners, objected to this decision back then, but there were no community remedies available–the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) had not yet been enacted giving citizens the opportunity to hold the Navy accountable.

Since then the Navy has continued to introduce new, more powerful and louder jets with no accountability to the public and in spite of community engagement requests.  The Navy hasn’t just ignored the public; it has sidelined its own guidelines and regulations with regard to Whidbey basing decisions.  In 1998, the Navy studied locations for its future fighter the F-18 (sister jet to the EA-18G “Growler”).  Whidbey was rejected because of the main base’s crossed runways and its substandard outlying field.  Yet not only were some Growlers brought to Whidbey anyway, the Navy decided to base every Growler here.  In addition to increasing the harm to citizens of Whidbey, putting all of these military assets in one vulnerable location was a poor decision in violation of Navy best practices.

For the past ten years COER has been calling on the Navy to sit down and discuss possible solutions with us.  The Navy has absolutely refused to talk.  Magistrate Creatura’s Report clearly points out that the Navy has not dealt truthfully with the jet noise and pollution problems they have created, instead fitting their “facts” to pre-determined, desired outcomes.  Furthermore, they do not seem to have been chastened by the judge’s findings.  A critical reading of the congressionally mandated Navy noise monitoring report (released after the magistrate’s report to the court), reveals the same flaws as with the Growler expansion EIS: more evasion, less transparency, and opaque science.

COER recognizes these are difficult, but not impossible, problems to solve.  Pilots need to train somewhere appropriate.  While communities around the area object to Growler noise, Oak Harbor relies upon the base.  Navy personnel like living in the Pacific Northwest.  Nevertheless, the need for military training locations and the economic benefits of the base on Whidbey must be balanced with the health and well-being of nearby communities, and with the economic and environmental costs of having Growlers train in this region.

What the Department of Defense and the Navy need to understand, is that military jet noise is no longer just a Whidbey Island problem.  The Navy has so massively expanded its Growler training program in the Puget Sound and Salish Sea region that our treasured national and state parks have become unusable.  Campers flee from Deception Pass State Park when Growlers train overhead.  The “quietest square inch” in the Olympic National Forest is no longer; Growlers conduct electronic warfare attack training directly overhead.  Outdoor recreation and local tourism economies are damaged, our air and water is degraded, and children are harmed in their classrooms. Citizen complaints about Growler noise come from Port Townsend, the San Juan Islands, La Conner, Anacortes, and from as far away as the Methow Valley and Victoria, British Columbia.  And sadly, a recent, peer-reviewed, underwater study of Growler noise indicates there may be impacts upon the threatened Southern Resident Orcas, migrating salmon and endangered seabirds as well.

Importantly, solving the military jet noise problem here on Whidbey may provide a model for resolving this same issue around the country.  As such, it will take congressional initiative and creativity.  The Navy will never solve this problem unless made to; they will just continue to deny any problems exist!  It is time for all parties to recognize the opportunity to look for new and innovative solutions to address this challenge, such as the one that the Sound Defense Alliance (an umbrella organization of regional environmental groups) has developed.

For years, we’ve been forced to hear and endure the Growlers.   Now the Seattle Times Editorial Board, the Everett Herald Editorial Board, our congressional delegation, Washington’s Attorney General, elected officials across NW Washington, thousands of citizens and most recently a federal magistrate have all come to understand the magnitude of this problem, to hear us!  We welcome the Seattle Times editors coming on board.  Hopefully, your clarion call for compromise has been heard as well.

COER and a broad network of collaborating organizations, including the Sound Defense Alliance, are committed to finding a negotiated solution.  Nobody should be mistaken however, about COER’s willingness and ability to continue to litigate.  We have been in court against the Navy for most of the past decade and will continue to use all legal means at our disposal to protect our people, our homes and our environment.  Thank you.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

As with all of the topics we write about, we would sincerely like to know what you think.  In one sense we agree with the Times’ call for compromise.  But knowing our history with the Navy on Whidbey Island, we won’t delude ourselves into thinking it’s possible.  And what would compromise even look like?  The Growler presence on Whidbey makes a living hell out of our lives, and damages communities and our environment region wide.  While we have never called for the closing of the base on Whidbey, we are adamant that all of the Growlers need to go.  Military jets have no place training over civilian homes or our national or state parks.

We can certainly compromise with the Navy on how long they take to relocate all Growler basing and training.  Is that a compromise that the Navy might, under pressure, be willing to enter into?  They know they have a problem here; they just don’t like being told to clean up their mess!

Let us know what you think and let the Times, and other regional news media, know as well.  In the meantime, because we anticipate that it is only through continued litigation that we will get relief from this scourge, please consider making a donation to COER’s litigation fund as we continue our battle to hold the Navy accountable.  Thank you.

A VOICE NOT RAISED IS A VOICE NOT HEARD!

2 Comments

  1. Diane Tompkinson

    This is an excellent well-thought-out response to The Seattle Times’ request for compromise. As a lifelong reader of The Times, I’m disappointed in their failure to publish this.

  2. Alex

    First. Congratulations on getting this issue out in front of the greater Northwest public. Hopefully this well-reasoned and researched litigation will bring the US Armed Forces into compliance with the realities of their bully tactics. The Pentagon has behaved badly (and with self-interest as their primary driver) and needs oversight and pruning. The largest budget and the least accountable of all entities in the Federal government I would think.
    Please do not compromise now. Our family has experienced the Growler noise on many occasions, and actually dismissed Whidbey Island and La Conner as viable places for us to relocate several years ago from Seattle. Once we saw clearly the faces of the pilots in the cockpit as they bank over Coupleville, we felt it was too much of a compromise/liability to pursue our long time dream of living in that “practice space.” For the Navy to try to ram through an expansion of this already unacceptable burden is worthy of the fight. And the economic impact on Oak Harbor would be negligible as the livability of North Whidbey and surrounds becomes more attractive to more diverse businesses and residents.
    Stay on track, and keep the Times on its toes. COER has done a wonderful service to thousands of humans, birds and sea life but the end game is move the operations to some of the millions of uninhabitable acres in the West…not one of the most beautiful regions of the USA.
    Thank you!

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