Port Townsend casts wary eye on prospect of more noisy Navy jet test flights out of Coupeville
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A Navy EA-18G Growler like those based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island is capable of landing on and taking off from aircraft carriers. —U.S. Navy photo

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Noise from Navy jet tests can be disruptive and scary for some North Olympic Peninsula residents.

But local authorities have not been notified by the Navy as to the extent of its EA-18G Growler test flights out of a test base near Coupeville, just across Admiralty Inlet from Port Townsend.

Whidbey Island residents, angry at window-rattling damage from the test flights of the heavily armed, radar-suppressing aircraft, are banding together in the hopes of eliminating the test strip near Coupeville.

The Navy is developing an environmental-impact statement to bring in two more squadrons of Growlers by 2015. The last day of the public comment period on the statement is Jan. 3.

“We haven't received a formal notice of any kind about the development of an environmental impact statement,” said Port Townsend Mayor David King,

“We have no knowledge about what they are doing at this point.”

Tests of the Growler aircraft, originating from Outlying Landing Field, or OLF, Coupeville — about 8 miles as the plane flies from Port Townsend — began in 2008 and have prompted continuous complaints since then, The Seattle Times reported Monday.

The OLF landing strip was built during World War II when planes were slower and quieter.

The field is now a key training ground for Growlers, Boeing-built jets based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island about 10 miles north near Oak Harbor.

The Navy called a moratorium on using OLF in late May until next month.

Last week, the Navy notified residents that it will resume flying at that time but would limit the flights from the Coupeville strip to about 6,000 a year.

Residents there told The Seattle Times that training flights over Coupeville houses continue from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. at least five days a week.

The Navy says that night trainings critical to pilot training, especially for landings in darkness on aircraft carriers.

Several tests reportedly took place this summer over Port Townsend and Port Angeles, prompting both cities to ask the Navy for more proactive notices of the tests.

Meetings to take testimony in the preparation of the environmental impact statement, or EIS, took place in Oak Harbor, Coupeville and Anacortes earlier this month, but no meeting was scheduled on the North Olympic Peninsula or at any other location.

The public can comment online at www.whidbeyeis.com by accessing a comment form under the “comments” menu.

The lack of weaving Port Townsend into the EIS notice process particularly surprised City Council member Michelle Sandoval, who as mayor fielded several noise complaints in 2012.

“Whenever there has been a Navy issue or something about the ferry, the Navy has been really good about corresponding with us,” Sandoval said.

On the other hand, when an EIS for the relocation of the ferry docks was under development, there were separate programs for Port Townsend and Coupeville.

Sandoval said she felt the programs should have been combined.

“This affects all the communities, so it would be good if we could bring them all together,” she said.

“If you have separate programs, one community doesn't know what the other is doing.”

Same holds true for the additional squadrons of Navy Growlers, she said.

Sandoval said she would like the comment period extended past Jan. 3 to give Port Townsend residents a chance to weigh in on the matter.

“As the tests have gotten louder, they have become more difficult to ignore,” she said.

“People wish they could get a heads-up when this is happening.”

Both Sandoval and King said they will push for an extension of the comment period.

Navy spokeswoman Liane Nakahara said she wasn't familiar with the specifics of the EIS preparation but said “in some cases, they will extend the comment period if enough people ask.”

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 23. 2013 6:19PM
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