The U.S. Navy on Dec. 5 conducted the first of five open house meetings to measure public response to a recent draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) about the impact of increased testing of …
The U.S. Navy on Dec. 5 conducted the first of five open house meetings to measure public response to a recent draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) about the impact of increased testing of EA-18G Growler aircraft originating from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
‘We are holding these meetings so people can express their concerns,” said Lisa Padgett, an environmental engineer for the Navy. “We can answer their questions, and all their comments will be addressed and considered.”
“If we have missed anything, we need to know at this stage so we can change the final draft,” said Ted Brown, Navy spokesperson, “such as if there is an endangered species that will be affected that we have failed to consider.”
The final EIS is expected sometime in 2017, with no schedule set for implementation.
The Navy is seeking input on three alternatives. All would increase the number of electronic warfare jets and training exercises, and bring Navy personnel and their families to the area. Each alternative includes three scenarios, dividing the tests between two locations on Whidbey Island, Ault Field north of Oak Harbor and Outlying Field Coupeville, across Admiralty Inlet from Port Townsend.
Decreasing or discontinuing the tests is not on the table, which did not stop many attendees from voicing a preference for that option.
The Navy maintains that the tests are necessary in order to increase military preparedness. Opponents take issue with that idea, but the local protests center on the effect on the environment and the resulting noise.
“We want for the Navy to reconsider their options,” said Kees Kolff of Port Townsend, a Jefferson Healthcare commissioner. “The expansion of Growler activities will affect the environment.”
Added Maj-Britt Peacock, who runs the Beachcomber Cafe at Fort Flagler State Park on Marrowstone Island: “Tourists come for our beautiful, pristine peace and quiet. This translates into dollars, and is the only thing we have left. There is no more fishing.”
Gordon Hempton, a sound engineer who lives in Port Townsend, called the EIS a “dangerous” document because it uses outdated data.
“I came here with an open mind, wanting to see what the Navy was offering us as far as an explanation for the increased Growler activity and also to be consoled they are taking adequate safeguards to protect our health,” he said. “The new [decibel level] health standards are being entirely ignored.”
Hampton said the idea that the Growler noise is “the sound of freedom” should also be reexamined.
“We are sacrificing the freedom we are fighting for,” he said. “The region has grown, and the Navy has outgrown its facility. Increasing Growler activity could lose us the least noise-polluted national park in the lower 48 states, which would be a great sacrifice.”
The Navy reported that 235 people attended the session at Fort Worden. Of these, about 50 participated in a nonviolent protest, sitting silently on the open floor for 15 minutes behind a sign that read, “Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything.”
The protest was unobtrusive, and no effort was made to suppress it. “People can make their point as long as other people are able to interact with our team and get their questions answered,” Brown said.
The Navy collected 77 comments. Of these, 69 were written and eight were oral. Aside from the general comments, input was solicited in six areas: alternatives, airfield operations, noise, community resources, natural resources and public involvement. The Navy brought in 30 representatives to provide information about specific topics and general categories.
Monday’s meeting, the only one scheduled for the Olympic Peninsula, is to be followed by meetings on consecutive days in Oak Harbor, on Lopez Island, in Anacortes and Coupeville.
David King, former Port Townsend mayor, said the Navy has increased its outreach since the first noise-related hearings that did not include the Olympic Peninsula.
“The best thing that we can hope for is for the Navy in its training to do what they can to reduce the noise,” King said. “There are decisions to be made as to where they fly and how they access the area.”
King said he agreed with the protests against war and militarization, but that an open house may not be the best venue for this activity.
“This is not a place to change policy; we lost that battle a couple of weeks ago,” he said, referring to the presidential election. “These people are doing their jobs. This is the citizen military at work.”
The draft EIS is viewable at
whidbeyeis.com and is available at area public libraries.
Those unable to attend the meetings can make comments by mail to EA-18G EIS Project Manager, Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Atlantic – Attn: Code EV21/SS, 6506 Hampton Blvd., Norfolk, VA 23508, or go to the online form at