Bearing the slogans “No new jets” and “No new flights,” signs were made to be seen possibly by pilots of the U.S. Navy EA-18G “Growler” aircraft whose expanding presence is being protested.
Of the nearly 70 people who arrived at North Beach Park on the afternoon of Oct. 3, 48 of them were organized into four rows of 12 people each, all of whom hoisted their poster-sized cards into the air on cue.
The protest was timed to coincide with similar events in Forks, Coupeville, Anacortes and Lopez Island, all being organized by the Sound Defense Alliance.
Port Townsend resident Larry Morrell, who helped coordinate the event at North Beach Park, explained the protests mark the public launch of the SDA, an umbrella organization made up of more than a dozen members and affiliates, including the Marrowstone Island Concerned Citizens, Protect the Olympic Peninsula and the Sierra Club’s North Olympic Chapter.
According to Morrell, the five protests were set to be followed by a similar event in Port Angeles.
All of these areas have residents who have raised their voices against the noise and environmental impacts of Growler flights from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and Naval Outlying Field Coupeville.
These protests follow the Department of Defense’s Sept. 28 release of the final environmental impact statement proposing an addition of 36 Growler jets to the 82 already stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
Steve Bristow, president of the Navy League of the United States’ Oak Harbor Area Council, issued a public statement Sept. 28, touting the final environmental impact statement as reflective of “the continued evolution” of the relationship between the Navy and the surrounding area, which he deemed an “outstanding mutual association.”
Bristow wrote the final environmental impact statement would increase the Growler inventory to “fewer than 60 percent of historical Whidbey-based carrier-jet numbers,” and described the operations of Naval Outlying Field Coupeville and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island as “essential” to Navy training and risk management.
“Landing upon aircraft carriers is fraught with peril and hazard,” Bristow wrote. “That danger is mitigated only by representative practice and preparation.”
Morrell sought to address such arguments during the Oct. 3 protest at Port Townsend.
“The Navy’s position is because we reduced the numbers from our first draft, there’ll be less noise than we said there would be, so you should be happy,” Morrell said. “Activity at Coupeville will be up by 400 percent, generating the most noise the area has had in 20 years.”
Morrell also pointed to Growler operations conducted elsewhere in the country and argued local operations are conducted more as a reward for Naval personnel because of how attractive an environment the Pacific Northwest is.
Morrell criticized the timing of the issuance of the final environmental impact statement since its 30-day comment window falls on the final full month of this year’s election season.
“The Navy also announced they were taking the month of October to repair Outlying Field Coupeville, so, during that 30-day comment period, they won’t have any flight activity from there,” Morrell said. “So if we do have elected officials come out to visit the area, they’ll say, ‘What’s your problem?’”
Morrell warned of the economic impact of the Growler flights to the civilian community, citing the “outdoor economy” of the Pacific Northwest as contributing more money to Washington state than the military, and identified health risks of the flights beyond merely generating loud noise.
“That noise includes lower frequency content, which has been shown to affect people’s hearts and circulatory systems,” Morrell said. “The Navy has excluded its impact from their findings, though, because people can’t hear it.”