Navy plans are not in sync with values of Puget Sound region

By Maryon Attwood Coupeville
Posted 1/13/15

Central to a growing controversy on the Olympic Peninsula are the EA-18G (Growler) jets manufactured by Boeing and stationed at Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island. These $83 million-plus …

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Navy plans are not in sync with values of Puget Sound region

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Central to a growing controversy on the Olympic Peninsula are the EA-18G (Growler) jets manufactured by Boeing and stationed at Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island. These $83 million-plus electronic warfare jets, the loudest ever built (150 decibels), are devastating Puget Sound’s northern islands with documented levels of hazardous noise – even before the completion of a required environmental impact study (EIS).

The Navy now plans – at a cost of $11.5 million – to take large swathes of the Olympic National Forest, along with airspace over it and the Olympic National Park, for its Northwest Electromagnetic Radiation Warfare training program.

It already does this training on bases in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Nevada, but says it needs the Olympic Peninsula to save $5 million per year on fuel costs and 45 minutes of flying time that Navy personnel could spend with their families. The Navy currently has 82 EA-18G Growler jets at NAS Whidbey Island, but that number is expected to grow to 118, if approved by Congress.

Thousands of citizens, from Forks to Friday Harbor, have raised questions about the scale of military operations, the locations for these trainings, and their economic, health and environmental impacts. Washington ranks sixth among the 50 states for having military personnel and assets.

The Navy consistently understates and distorts facts and data, even from its own studies and sources. Here are a few of the Navy’s claims that make it hard to trust what it says.

Navy claim: The numbers of flights in the Olympic National Forest are projected to increase by 10 percent.

Fact: Growlers will fly over the Olympic Peninsula communities and cities for 260 days per year, to do 2,900 training exercises for 8-16 hours per day at 15 locations. The current number of operations in the Olympic MOA is 1,200. This increase is more than double.

Navy claim: Growlers over the Olympic Forest will fly at 10,000 feet above sea level.

Fact: The Navy is authorized to fly at 6,000 feet above mean sea level. Because the ground rises in the mountains, in some areas jets will fly at 1,200 feet.

Navy claim: Growlers – no louder than Prowlers.

Fact: Growlers can cause instantaneous hearing loss. The Navy’s own data states that Growlers, as they approach a landing, register at 114 decibels (dB), compared with 107 dB for Prowlers. Given the log scale, that 7-dB difference expands to Growler noise being 4.33 times (433 percent) as intense as the average reading for Prowlers.

Loudness is a more qualitative measure of what people hear, which is different from the actual sound intensity their body experiences. Loudness, too, is on a log scale, such that a 10-dB increase in noise doubles the human perception of its loudness. The Navy’s own data shows that the 117 dB it reports for Growler takeoff registers at 1.3 times (133 percent of) the 114-dB loudness of a Prowler takeoff.

Navy claim: Training over the Olympics will enhance the Navy’s ability to support troops.

Fact: The Navy is already doing electromagnetic warfare training elsewhere. This looks more like a proposal for the convenience of the Navy, not for improved training for field support. Additionally, any training it does now could be learned in simulators instead of aircraft for real financial savings, as most airlines do today.

Navy claim: It is extremely unlikely that the training conducted in Washington will adversely affect people, animals or the environment.

Fact: In the 2010 EIS for the Northwest Training and Testing Center, plans include “taking” thousands of fish and marine mammals, like our orcas. Seattle Audubon, Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Friends of the Earth and the National Resource Defense Council refute this claim. Current science supports multiple negative health impacts to both humans and endangered species from the Growler noise, onboard electromagnetic equipment and sonar testing. Effects include hearing loss, increased stress hormones, heart attacks and cardiovascular disease, and psychosocial impacts.

Navy claim: Electromagnetic emitters are safe.

Fact: Journalist Dahr Jamal published a list of scientists and articles on electromagnetic-emitter science that contradicts this claim. The effects of noise and electromagnetic radiation on 1 billion birds flying up and down the Pacific Coast Flyway annually has not been analyzed by the Navy.

In spite of facts and science, the Navy is committed to more jets, more noise, expanded assets, sonar that will kill our fish and whales, live-fire testing and warfare training. The Navy’s goals are out of sync with a growing region that cares about health, a clean and peaceful environment, and a sustainable economy for our beloved Puget Sound estuary.

(Maryon Attwood is a small-business owner in Coupeville and a board member of Citizens of the Ebey's Reserve. She has lived in Coupeville for 10 years.)

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