U.S. Navy An EA-18G Growler assigned to Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 129 lands on Naval Air Station Whidbey Island’s Ault Field. (U.S. Navy)

Port Townsend City Council to send letter to Navy about Growler noise

PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend City Council will send a letter to the U.S. Navy raising concerns over potential increased jet noise.

The letter to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island Commanding Officer Capt. G.C. Moore will say the area of study for potential effects of increased Growler operations at Whidbey Island is too narrow.

During the City Council’s meeting Monday, Councilwoman Michelle Sandoval said the city’s letter should include both historic districts in the city and Fort Worden.

“The city disagrees with your area of study, as well as your definition of the indirect effects component of the APE [area of potential effect],” the letter says.

Councilman Robert Gray said he was concerned about the noise’s impact on the historic buildings.

“I think it could be clarified that we are also concerned about the buildings,” he said.

He also suggested adding more language thanking the Navy for being good neighbors for the past 74 years.

“We’ve benefited from that,” he said. “We’re strong supporters of the military.”

In a July 12 letter to Port Townsend Mayor Deborah Stinson, Moore requested feedback from the city on the Navy’s proposed APE for increased Growler operations on Whidbey Island.

The Navy is preparing a draft environmental impact statement on a proposal to add up to 36 EA-18G Growler jets to the 82 currently based at NAS Whidbey Island. The statement is to be released in the fall, according to www.whidbeyeis.com.

The Boeing EA-18G Growler is an electronic warfare aircraft used to suppress radar.

Its operations have been a topic of controversy on Whidbey Island and parts of the North Olympic Peninsula since the jets began flying over the area in 2008.

During public comment, one unidentified man lauded the council for writing the letter to the Navy.

To support the mission at Whidbey Island, the Navy proposes to:

• Continue and expand electronic attack operations at the complex, which includes Ault Field near Oak Harbor and Outlying Landing Field (OLF) Coupeville.

• Increase electronic attack capabilities and augment the Growler Fleet Replacement Squadron to support an expanded Department of Defense mission for identifying, tracking and targeting in a “complex electronic warfare environment.”

• Construct, demolish and renovate Ault Field facilities to accommodate additional aircraft.

• Put more personnel and their families at NAS Whidbey Island and the surrounding community.

The Navy has defined areas of potential indirect effects as places where noise remains within 65 decibels, a federally accepted metric used by the Federal Aviation Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Defense and other agencies.

The proposed actions would not result in a 65-decibel average anywhere in East Jefferson County, according to Navy sound maps.

In the response from the city, officials said the 65-decibel baseline is a day-night average measured over the course of a year.

“While this is the FAA standard, FAA policy does not preclude local jurisdictions from setting a lower threshold of compatibility for new land use developments, and the policy allows for supplemental or alternative measurements,” the draft letter says.

“The average decibel level in the city, especially at night, is likely to be very low — even below 55 [decibels] in certain parts of the city.

“Growler operations are not continuous; the noise impacts of the operations vary based on the exercise, but include flights over and near the city for hours at a time — frequently at night.”

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5550, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.

Reporter Rob Ollikainen contributed to this story.