PORT ANGELES — An advocacy group has filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Navy over jet-noise data for aircraft operations over the Olympic Peninsula.
The National Parks and Conservation Association (NPCA) filed the Freedom of Information Act complaint Thursday in Western Federal District Court in Seattle.
A summons was served Friday on a Navy associate general counsel in Washington, D.C., requiring a response within 30 days.
“The Navy cannot comment on pending litigation,” Michael Welding, a Navy public affairs officer, said Friday in an email.
The Navy has claimed a undisclosed number of records are exempt from disclosure as “attorney work product,” according to the lawsuit.
The NPCA alleges the Navy has violated the public-document disclosure law by failing to fulfill a June 10, 2016 FOIA request “within the time and manner required by FOIA,” according to the complaint.
The information includes written public comments on jet operations above the Olympic Peninsula, including Olympic National Park.
The electronic warfare EA-18G Growler jets are based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Oak Harbor about 40 miles east of Port Angeles.
The NPCA is seeking “any and all [National Environmental Policy Act] analyses, documents, or communications regarding past, current or anticipated naval or military training exercises affecting Olympic National Park, the Olympic National Forest, and the Olympic Peninsula,” NPCA Northwest Regional Director Rob Smith said Friday.
“They simply have not responded and have not provided much,” Smith said.
The NPCA also wants all documents and communications between the Navy and any state and federal agencies on noise impacts in in 2010, 2014 and 2015 environmental studies and documents on impacts to the park or park visitors “from naval training exercises on or above the Olympic Peninsula,” according to the lawsuit.
The Navy produced 158 pages of records in response to the NPCA request, according to the lawsuit.
A nearly identical request was sent to agencies involved int he NEPA process, including the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service, producing “thousands” of responsive records, according to the lawsuit.
The documents being sought include information from 11 reference documents listed in the appendix of a 2015 Noise Analysis for the military operations area, Smith said.
They include “The Effect of Onset Rate on Aircraft Noise Annoyance, Volume 3: Hybrid Own-Home Experiment,” and “Air Force Procedure for Predicting Noise Around Air Bases: Noise Exposure Model (NOISEMAP) Technical Report.”
The public comments include statements made at 2015 scoping meetings for an environmental impact statement that is being updated in current meetings, Smith said.
The comment period for the update — a supplemental EIS — ends June 12.
The draft supplemental EIS is at www.nwtteis.com, where comments can be submitted on the document.
It reassesses potential environmental impacts associated with aircraft training activities for issuance of fedeal permits under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.
The information being sought by the NPCA includes Navy correspondences with the Federal Aviation Administration that are referred to in an environmental study “but there is no information they provided on that,” Smith said.
The Navy is “illegally invoking FOIA exemptions without justification,” according to the lawsuit.
The Navy also conducted an inadequate search by mischaracterizing and narrowing the public records request “to only include ‘certain Navy training activities,’” according to the lawsuit.
“This narrower search excludes prior and ongoing or anticipated NEPA analyses, documents or communications,” according to the lawsuit.
“For instance, although the Navy in the 2010 and 2015 EIS [documents] referenced historic training activities, the Navy provided little or no analyses, documents or communications regarding those past naval training exercises and how they might affect Olympic National Park, the Olympic National Forest, and the Olympic Peninsula.”
The NAS Whidbey aircraft conduct training in two military operations areas west of Port Angeles over Olympic National Park and to the coast, and over ocean waters along the coast.
The Navy recently approved the addition of 36 more radar-jamming EA-18G Growler jets at the air base, a 44 percent increase in aircraft from 82 to 118.
Operations, defined as a takeoff or landing, will increase from 85,000 at NAS Whidbey Island Complex at Ault Field and Outlying Field (OLF) Coupeville to 112,000.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].