Washington state sues Navy over expanded flights on Whidbey Island

AG: officials didn’t adequately consider effects on people, wildlife

By Gene Johnson

The Associated Press

SEATTLE — Washington state is suing the Navy over its expansion of jet operations on Whidbey Island, saying officials failed to adequately consider the effect that additional noisy flights would have on people or wildlife.

“The Navy has an important job, and it’s critical that their pilots and crews have the opportunity to train,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a news release announcing the lawsuit Tuesday.

“That does not relieve the federal government of its obligation to follow the law and avoid unnecessary harm to our health and natural resources.”

The Navy’s public affairs office said it does not comment on litigation.

The Navy in March authorized the expansion of its Growler program by up to three dozen jets, adding to the 82 already based on Whidbey Island.

The low-flying jets conduct electronic warfare to jam enemy communications and launch systems, and under the expansion plans crews would perform around 100,000 takeoffs and landings a year for the next three decades.

That, Ferguson said, could have serious effects on nearby residents.

The state Health Department has outlined how exposure to noise levels similar to those at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island could disrupt children’s learning and cause sleep disturbance, cognitive impairment and cardiovascular disease.

It could also disrupt the feeding and breeding of eagles and marbled murrelets, a type of seabird.

Port Townsend Mayor Deborah Stinson said Wednesday that she hasn’t been able to take a deep dive into the information yet.

“Looks like it’s very much in line with the comments the city has previously made to the Navy on all their environmental impact studies. At this point the city’s role is yet to be determined,” she said to the PDN.

“I’m thankful Ferguson is willing to make sure the lawful process is adhered to, even if it’s by our own government. I’m thankful he listened to the very people these laws are on the books to protect,” Port Townsend City Council member Michelle Sandoval said to the PDN on Wednesday.

“… The government, whether it be local, state or at the federal level, should not be exempting themselves just because they can get away with it.”

In the news release, Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp called on the federal government to strike a balance between national security and environmental preservation.

“Unregulated, unrestrained noise pollution from increased military training operations presents a clear threat to the health and solitude of our state’s fragile ecosystems, treaty protected resources and endangered species,” she said.

In its decision to approve the expansion plan, the Navy said the number of flights on the island would be comparable to those that occurred from the 1970s through the 1990s. It also said it would continue to invest in technologies to reduce engine and aircraft noise.

The state’s lawsuit alleges violations of the National Environmental Protection Act and the federal Administrative Procedure Act.

Ferguson said he intended to add claims under the Endangered Species Act.

The National Parks Conservation Association said it supports the lawsuit, noting that the flights could also affect Olympic National Park and Ebey’s Landing, a historical preserve on Whidbey Island.

The association recently filed a lawsuit accusing the Navy of withholding information about noise pollution from the jets over Olympic National Park.

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer wrote a letter in March to the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, rebuffing its call for additional noise monitoring and tracking of the effect on tourism.

He said the Navy had already performed noise monitoring and noted it was spending $876,000 to refurbish a home at Ebey Landing built in 1860.

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Peninsula Daily News Jefferson County Reporter Jeannie McMacken contributed to this report.

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