The Naval Air Station on Whidbey Island is considering adding 35 Growler aircrafts to its rotation.
Citizens living near the base have until Jan. 25, 2017 to submit their comments for the Navy’s Environmental Impact Statement. Following the Nov. 10 release of the draft EIS, which is required for proposed federal agency actions, the Navy held five open house meetings throughout the region.
“They didn’t hear our complaints the first time,” said Steven Brouwer, an island resident at a Dec. 7 public meeting at Lopez Center. “What are we even doing here?”
More than 50 representatives from the Navy were scattered around the center, waiting to answer questions one-on-one with individuals on such topics as growler training noise, environmental impact and socioeconomic impact. The Navy also gathered written public comment for the EIS. It has been compiling comments for the past three years. On Lopez Island, there have been multiple complaints about the length and intensity of Growler training sessions. The Federal Aviation Administration’s official landing pathways also pass directly over the southern tip of the island.
Citizen activist groups have formed both on Lopez and Whidbey Island protesting the use of the EA-18G Growler in the Puget Sound region. Quiet Skies over San Juan County has requested several mitigation efforts be done to reduce the amount of noise pollution. Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve on Whidbey wants to eliminate the Growler squadron from NAS Whidbey Island, and ensure the complete closure of the training field in Coupeville.
“We made sure we are all listening,” said Lisa Padgett, an environmental engineer and the U.S. Fleet Forces Command project manager for the EIS. “I personally will review every comment we receive. People will get a response to their comments.”
In September 2013, the Navy began its first scoping period for the EIS. Since then, public comment was used to form the outline for the EIS. As of the November 2016 release, the EIS is currently 716 pages long, and includes the results of peer-reviewed studies, public questions and answers and three alternative plans for the future of the Growlers at Whidbey. The EIS is submitted to the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, who makes a decision on the proposed increase. The Navy hopes to submit a final EIS by the end of 2017.
The first alternative would add three additional aircraft to each of the existing nine carrier squadrons and eight additional aircraft to the Fleet Replacement Squadron for a total of 35 new Growlers. This alternative would add 371 Navy personnel and an estimated 509 dependents to the nearby community.
The second alternative would add two expeditionary squadrons with two additional aircraft to each existing carrier squadron, and augmenting the FRS with eight additional aircraft as well. This alternative would add a total of 36 new Growlers and an additional 664 Navy personnel with an estimated 910 dependents.
The final alternative would be to add three additional aircraft to each of the three existing expeditionary squadrons, add two additional aircraft to each existing carrier squadron and augmenting the FRS with nine additional aircraft. This alternative would also add 36 new Growlers. Navy personnel would increase by 377, and an estimated 894 dependents would be relocating to the region.
Each alternative has three scenarios as options as well: the first would split the field carrier landing practice to occur 20 percent of the time at Ault field and 80 percent at the training field in Coupeville; the second would split the practices 50/50 between the fields; and the final scenario would be 20 percent training at Ault Field and 80 percent at the Coupeville training field.
“We go to a lot of effort,” said Padgett. “We want it to be thorough and complete.”
A repeating theme, throughout the alternatives is that no matter which alternative the U.S. Secretary of the Navy chooses, the frequency of the noise disturbances will increase 50 percent.
The Navy’s ultimate goal is to have the remaining EA-18G Growlers (35-36 aircraft) be sent for training and usage at NAS Whidbey Island. The increase in aircraft will require new construction at Ault Field to house the vehicles and additional Navy personnel and their families moving to the community.
According to Padgett, the Growler missions were previously performed by a combination of Navy, Air Force and Marine personnel, however, the Navy will be taking over the Growler mission in its entirety. She said that Whidbey Island is home to the only station equipped for Growler training and flight operations in the country.
The Growlers at NAS Whidbey Island have been a topic of contention in the region for several years. Lopezians on the southern part of the island, and citizens who live nearby to the Outlying Field in Coupeville, have frequently voiced their opinions. The loud roaring sound the planes make is annoying to many residents.
“It feels like our tax dollars are being used to make our life unbearable,” said islander Erin Bernardi, who wants to know why the training can’t happen at less populated areas like over the Army’s Yakima Training Center. “We’re not saying ‘don’t do it in my backyard, do it in someone else’s.’ I wish we could get to a win-win.”
The entire draft EIS is available to be read online at http://www.whidbeyeis.com/; or in hard copy and digital copy at any of the island libraries. Anyone who is interested in having their comments and concerns read and responded to in the final version of the EIS can submit them two ways. Comments can be mailed to: EA-18G EIS Project Manager, Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Atlantic – Attn: Code EV21/SS, 6506 Hampton Blvd., Norfolk, VA 23508; or entered online at http://whidbeyeis.com/Comment.aspx.
“We sincerely want to hear what people have to say,” said Padgett, adding that each comment will be printed in full and responded to in the final EIS. “They might not like the answer, and that’s understandable.”