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

Draft letter to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island’s commanding officer says the area of study is too narrow.

PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend City Council will consider today a letter to the U.S. Navy raising concerns about increased jet noise.

In a draft letter to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island Commanding Officer Cpt. G.C. Moore, city officials said the area of study for potential effects of increased Growler operations at Whidbey Island is too narrow.

Port Townsend and its historic district should be included in the study area because it is affected by jet noise, too, officials said.

“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 states.

The seven-member council will consider approving the letter at its business meeting today.

The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall, 540 Water St.

Approval expected

Port Townsend City Manager David Timmons said he expected council approval of the draft comment letter.

“It’s really just our response to the EA [environmental assessment] and the notice that the Navy put out,” Timmons said Sunday.

“We’ve asked them to expand their study area, but also to change the method that they’re using to measure compliance.”

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

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.

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 Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and the surrounding community.

Such actions would have direct and indirect effects, Navy officials said.

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.

“The threshold of 65 [decibels] or less is considered to be ‘acceptable’ for most land uses and not expected to affect historic properties,” Moore wrote in his letter to Stinson.

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 states.

“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.”

The draft letter urges the Navy use the FAA’s “Effective Perceived Noise Level” to measure noise impacts of Growler operations in Port Townsend and on Whidbey Island.

It also notes that the Navy’s sound-measuring proposal does not take into account low-frequency noise.

“The city appreciates the need for pilot training, and is grateful for the sacrifices made by the members of our military and their families,” the draft letter states.

“We ask that the APE (Areas of Potential Impact) be expanded to cover all historic areas subject to flight operations, not just take-off and landing.

“We also ask that you measure those impacts as precisely as possible, and taking into consideration low-impact frequencies.”

Meanwhile, the Navy and the National Park Service have pledged to coordinate efforts to monitor jet noise over Olympic National Park during Growler training missions.

Last September, about 110,000 petition signatures were delivered to Olympic National Forest officials asking them to deny a Navy permit to place electromagnetic transmitters in West End forests.

The mobile transmitters would be used as part of the Navy’s $11.5 million expansion of electromagnetic warfare training.

________

Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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