PORT TOWNSEND — Facing northeast toward Whidbey Island, 75 members of the Sound Defense Alliance sent the Navy a message from North Beach Park.
The group held 48 placards spelling out “No New Jets. No New Flights” on Wednesday afternoon as EA-18 Growler jets were flying overhead, practicing takeoffs and landings at Outlying Field Coupeville (OLF).
Sound Defense Alliance steering committee member Larry Morrell, a member of Save the Olympic Peninsula based in Port Angeles, said the demonstration was meant to be the “start of a regional dialogue with the Navy.”
The Navy has endorsed a preferred alternative in a final Environmental Impact Study (EIS) to expand EA-18G Growler operations at the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island Complex. It includes the addition of 36 jets to the 82 now stationed there.
It is estimated that OLF could support 24,100 annual training operations, which would be an increase of 17,590 operations per year. The Navy believes that OLF provides a “more realistic training for Navy aviators.”
Concern about increased noise from the touch-and-go takeoffs and landings used to train pilots, has sparked opposition to the Navy’s plans to expand use of OLF, both from residents of central Whidbey Island and of the North Olympic Peninsula, especially in Port Townsend and Forks.
“We haven’t had an opportunity to have a conversation with them,” Morrell said. “This action is designed to convince our elected federal and regional officials to help us get to the table with the Navy so we can talk with some of the decision makers about what the impact really is.”
He said the group’s objective is to have a better conversation with the Navy so they can understand the concerns of the alliance, which is made up of several organizations.
“The Navy’s Environmental Impact Statement states what they think the impact is, and it’s boilerplate. They’ve ignored some issues and comments,” Morrell said.
Members of the organization believe that noise, pollution and economic impacts are part of the “collateral damage of the jet program.” They said the effect is far-reaching, extending over the Olympic Peninsula, and through Jefferson, Skagit, Island and Clallam counties and the San Juan Islands.
He said the organization’s purpose is not to have the Growlers leave.
“We’re not trying to get them to leave completely,” Morrell said. “We’re not trying to shut them down. We understand the pilots need to have first-rate training. We think there are better options for them. That’s the discussion we want to have.
“The new growlers should go someplace else. They will change the entire complexion of Whidbey and the surrounding areas. Frankly, 36 more jets on top of the 82 that are currently flying is too many.”
He hopes the Department of Defense will consider other training options such as air bases in Nevada or California that already have large F-18 populations and training for carrier landings.
“We need to meet with them before the record of decision is issued. That could be as soon as 30 days from Sept. 28. I’m sure this is a coincidence, but the final EIS will be published right in the middle of election season when the elected officials’ attention we need will be otherwise occupied.”
The Sound Defense Alliance is an umbrella organization of 25,000 members that comprises a dozen different organizations around the region. There were simultaneous demonstrations Wednesday on Lopez Island, Coupeville, Anacortes, and Port Townsend, all with the same message.
A protest will occur in Port Angeles in the future, said Ron Richards, chairman of Save the Olympic Peninsula. He said members contributed to the action in Port Townsend on Wednesday.
For more information about the Sound Defense Alliance, see sounddefensealliance.org.
The final EIS is on the project website, www.whidbeyeis.com. Hard copies of the final EIS may be found at local libraries.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]