The one point of consensus at the Sound Defense Alliance’s March 21 community meeting was, in the words of Alliance member and Port Townsend resident Larry Morrell, “We’re all anxious to do something.”
That gathering, at the Northwest Maritime Center in Port Townsend ,was one of five conducted by the Alliance on the Olympic Peninsula and in the Puget Sound region, in response to the U.S. Navy’s decisions to add 36 EA-18G “Growler” jets at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, and to increase their landing practice at Naval Outlying Field Coupeville.
Julia Tesch, outreach manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, described her organization’s 100-year mission to protect parks as a way of preserving its landscape. She informed attendees of its Hear Our Olympics campaign to safeguard the “natural soundscape” of the Olympic National Park, including the Hoh Rain Forest, which she deemed “one of the quietest places in the lower 48” states.
“We’re pro-park, not anti-Navy,” Tesch said, before presenting a short film in which veterans such as Brandon Kuehn and Chuck Nelson recounted how loud jet noises have triggered their post-traumatic stress disorders, which they credited Olympic National Park with soothing through the relative silence and solitude it offers.
Tesch explained how the National Environmental Policy Act requires a public comment period and an Environmental Impact Statement and a study of the cumulative impacts whenever a federal agency project could impact the environment.
Tesch criticized the Navy for “fragmenting” this process into smaller pieces, thereby “minimizing its impact,” but she also saw an opportunity in the multiple public comment periods this has created.
“If you look at the reasons the Navy listed for choosing this area, they all boil down to convenience,” Tesch said. “We can make it inconvenient for them by submitting a lot of public comments. They can choose to train elsewhere. We can’t move the Olympic National Park.”
Morrell explained the Sound Defense Alliance is a group of 20 groups concerned with the noise, environmental and other impacts of local Navy jet flights, which Morrell fears will threaten the region’s ecological diversity, economic strength and quality of life.
Morrell reported the Alliance claims 25,000 members between them, and just as Tesch recommended meeting with one’s state legislators and representatives in Congress, so too did Morrell note that the Alliance has voiced its concerns to elected officials including Gov. Jay Inslee.
“Our state Department of Commerce is trying to attract even more of a military presence here,” said Morrell, who says there are potential health risks that come with that much noise concentrated in one area.
“We have to create a large, un-ignorable presence by meeting with these people eye to eye,” Morrell said.
Fellow SDA member Teresa Purcell amplified this call to contact the government, pointing out the Navy’s budget is set by Congress.
“It might seem impossible to take on the Navy, but if we don’t, they will win,” Purcell said. “We can’t ask for anything crazy, like for them to close their bases, but as citizens, we can let them know we will not be their collateral damage. We can initiate discussions about the long-term role of the military in the region, and we can ensure there are citizen voices at that table.”
In addition to corresponding with elected officials, Purcell urged the region’s residents to spread word to other members of their communities about these issues.
“You are our best messengers to your friends and neighbors,” Purcell said, while also exhorting would-be activists to develop “productive relationships” with those in government. “It’s easy to get discouraged, but the cure for that is to do something. Write letters to the editor. Submit testimony for the EIS. We need at least three times the number of people in this room. Regardless of your skill-set, you can help.”
After Ann Harding called upon attendees of the March 21 meeting to raise $5,000, Morrell said “We can do way better than that,” and handed over a check for $1,000, toward a new goal of $10,000.
Before Tesch explained how to download an app to track and report Growler noises, which will be available in the near future at the NPCS website at npca.org, Harding confirmed for Port Townsend City Council member Michelle Sandoval that a lawsuit is being explored as an option.