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Update: Waiting, Waiting, Still Waiting

The year 2023 has proven to be a frustrating one for those of us subjected to the brutal noise and toxic pollution attacks from US Navy Growlers as they train all over the Salish Sea region. This year has been particularly bad for many areas, especially around the Coupeville OLF, as the Navy has scheduled and conducted Growler FCLP training every single week. Moreover, the Navy’s recent schedules included Friday night training sessions, marking a change in policy. This is new! In the past the Navy would train for three to five straight weeks at the OLF then there would be no training for several weeks. This week is our ninth straight week of flights. It seems the only pause we get is when the weather is too bad for these trainee pilots to train.

As for the Friday night flights, this is yet another incremental encroachment into our lives. Back in the 1990s Whidbey Island residents formed WISE (Whidbey Islanders for a Sane Environment) to protest Navy Prowler flights at the OLF. The public uproar over the Prowler training was so intense that the Navy ultimately entered into a “gentlemen’s” agreement with the community that included, among other provisions, that the Navy would not train past 10PM, would not train on consecutive days, and would not train on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays. The Navy lived up to that agreement for a few years. The hard lessons to be learned by the community were: (1) nothing the Navy agrees to, even in writing, means anything unless it is actually enacted as a law by Congress; (2) the Navy will even violate those laws (like NEPA) unless someone holds them to account; and (3) the Navy just cannot be trusted!

The last element of the WISE agreement that the Navy had stuck to these past few years has been the proscription against flying on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. But that last concession to our community started to fail before Covid when the Navy announced it would fly on Friday mornings. Then it became Friday mornings to mid-afternoon. Now they are scheduling flights on Friday night. If you carefully read the Navy’s EIS (which COER and the State of Washington successfully challenged in Federal Court) you will find that they only state that they will not train at the OLF on Sundays before noon. The Navy is treating US Citizens like frogs to be boiled. Put the frog in a pot of tepid water, slowly raise the temperature and the frog will relax and remain in the pot until it boils to death. That’s what the Navy is doing to us. Start with Friday morning for a while then add afternoons. A couple of years later add Friday nights. Next it will be Saturday mornings, then. . . well you get the point. Before we know it, training will go on over our homes, our schools, our businesses, farms and the hospital, seven days a week. That’s what the Navy wants, and if we don’t stop them that’s what they’ll do. Lawsuits and court judgments, and even federal laws be damned, the Navy is going to do whatever it wants. Their justification will always be: national defense. But it is American citizens that are being harmed by their paean to defense, and we are being harmed by the agency we pay to defend us.

Which brings us to our update: what is happening in COER’s and Washington’s NEPA action against the Navy? As you know we won. Judge Jones completely agreed with the Magistrate’s Report and Recommendation finding that the Navy violated the National Environmental Policy Act with their Growler expansion EIS and Record of Decision (ROD). The Judge directed the parties to try to agree on the remedy to be imposed (primarily what mitigation should take place while the Navy redid its EIS). No surprise but the Navy was unwilling to agree to any real mitigation. The parties then briefed the court on proposed remedies.  COER and the State of Washington both asked the court to vacate the ROD and limit Growler training to what had existed prior to the EIS. In the case of the OLF that would mean 6,180 instead of 23,800 operations per year. The Navy argued that they should be allowed to continue doing what they had been doing. The Navy claimed that Whidbey Island was the one and only place they could train Growler pilots; that if Whidbey were denied them pilots would go untrained. We pointed out to the court how patently false that claim was. We hope the Judge sees the Navy BS for what it is. As a last ditch delaying effort, the Navy asked the court for another round of oral arguments.

Briefing on remedies was completed in December, and now we are waiting for the Judge to decide whether to grant the Navy’s request for oral arguments or whether (and what) he’ll enter as remedies in our case. In the meantime, the Navy seems to be punishing us with nine straight weeks of Growler training and counting, and adding Friday evenings. This is a scorched earth attack upon us by the Navy. They know that Central Whidbey’s biggest industry, along with agriculture, is tourism. Friday night events and Saturday weddings fund many of Central Whidbey’s businesses. The Navy’s plan seems to be to destroy our economy; to so discourage our residents that they will drive us out. They are wrong and what they are doing is wrong. We will never give up on our homes, or on our Central Whidbey community. We will fight until we bring them to their senses and they realize that all Growler training should be relocated to military reservations. We will fight in court and in the political arena.  We will not be silenced!

As is our wont, we once again ask you to help us with this fight.  We need volunteers. We need folks willing to write letters to our elected representatives.  And we need funds. Every donation helps us with this fight, so please consider volunteering and donating. You can donate online via Pay Pal, or save us the Pay Pal fees and send a check to COER Charitable, P.O. Box 202, Coupeville, WA 98239-0202. Thank you.

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