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Congress to Navy: Monitor, report noise from Growler jets over Whidbey Island

By Joel Connelly, SeattlePI
Published 2:41 pm PST, Tuesday, December 10, 2019 (copied with permission)

Two Boeing EA-18G Growler airborne electronic attack aircraft conduct a test flight. (Boeing)

The U.S. Navy will be required to monitor and report noise levels made by EA-18G Growler jets at Naval Air Station Whidbey and the Navy Outlying Field Coupeville, according to language in a National Defense Authorization Act set to pass Congress.

The bill’s language also requires that the Secretary of the Navy work with the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service on a monitoring plan for the Olympic Peninsula. Growler jets currently make 2,300 flights a year over Olympic National Park, a figure due to climb to 5,000 annual flights.

“Noise from Growler training has caused much concern in local communities,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said in a statement. “Publicly available real time monitoring of Whidbey Island and Olympic National Park will provide transparency and a basis for an accurate discussion on the impacts of the increased flight activity between the Navy, the state and communities involved. I’m pleased to see this provision included in the final defense package and I encourage Congress to support its passage.”

RELATED: The Navy’s Growler jets bring noise to a quiet place: Olympic National Park

The Navy recently approved adding 36 Growlers to its existing 82-plane fleet. The big, noisy jet practice carrier landings at Outlying Field Coupeville, and fly over Olympic Park en route to Olympic Military Operations Areas for electronic warfare training on the western peninsula.

NAS Whidbey has long advertised itself with a sign reading “THE SOUND OF FREEDOM” along S.R. 20 north of Oak Harbor. The sound of less-noisy Prowler jets caused little controversy. But arrival of the growlers has produced a protest movement that has drawn hundreds to meetings in the auditorium at Coupeville High School.

The Navy has gone ahead with its plans, even blowing off critical questions from U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Conservation groups are worried , especially at a return flight path that takes Growler jets over the heart of Olympic National Park, the Dungeness Wilderness Area in Olympic National Forest, and Port Townsend. The Navy jets also fly over another popular unit of the National Park System, the Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve on Whidbey Island.

RELATED: Wash. AG Ferguson sues Navy over noisy Growler jets at Whidbey

“Gosh, people in this area are strongly pro-Navy, but the Navy should recognize this is a two way street: Olympic is designated a wilderness park, it should stay like that,” former Gov. Dan Evans, 94, said recently. As a U.S. Senator, Evans wrote legislation that protects 96 percent of the national park as wilderness.

Rep. Rick Larsen, who put noise monitoring into a House version of the authorization bill, said: “I’m happy the final bill includes real-time noise monitoring language to require the Navy to mitigate the effects of military aircraft noise on private residences, schools and hospitals.”

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Wild Olympics Bill Passes House Committee

QUILCENE, Wash. (December 5, 2019) – The Wild Olympics Coalition today cheered the passage of the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (H.R. 2642) out of the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee. The legislation was introduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA-06) in May, and would permanently protect more than 126,500 acres of Olympic National Forest as wilderness and 19 rivers and their major tributaries—a total of 464 river miles—as Wild and Scenic Rivers.

L t R: Sen. Murray, Rep. Kilmer, Tim McNulty

Designed through extensive community input to protect ancient forests and clean water and to enhance outdoor recreation, the legislation would designate the first new wilderness in the Olympic National Forest in nearly three decades and the first-ever protected wild and scenic rivers on the Olympic Peninsula. Click to see the press release and to see a video of supporters.

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Marbled Murrelet Coalition Comments to U.S. Fish and Wildlife on Final EIS for Long-Term Conservation Strategy

The Coalition, including OFCO, submitted its comment on the Final Environmental Impact Statement to the USFWS on the Marbled Murrelet Long-Term Conservation Strategy. The Service will be issuing a Biological Opinion and a Record of Decision immediately accepting the Washington Dept. of Natural Resources’ (DNR) preferred alternative (Alternative H). The Service will issue an incidental take permit based on Alternative H, which actually allows for “take” of murrelet habitat. The Washington Board of Natural Resources (BNR) is expected to accept the permit at its December 2019 meeting. Murrelet habitat may be harvested as early as next harvest season.

The Coalition has taken the position that Alternative H does not meet the needs of the murrelet, and that more habitat must be conserved to ensure that the species is not extirpated in Washington. Dr. Kara Whittaker, murrelet biologist with the Washington Forest Law Center, has provided scientific analysis for the Coalition. The Coalition is advocating for more conservation to protect habitat through the DNR advisory group “Solutions Table,” with the BNR, and with all other options to win more habitat for the Marbled Murrelet.

Marbled Murrelet egg in nest ~ USFS

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OFCO Asks Ecology to Consider Environmental Degradation in Quilcene Bay for Shellfish Operations Permit

The Olympic Forest Coalition has asked the Washington State Dept. of Ecology to consider the environmental degradation in Quilcene Bay as it reviews the Clean Water Act National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit application of Pacific Seafoods (DBA Coast Seafoods) for its shellfish hatchery in Quilcene, Washington. OFCO sued Coast Seafoods for discharging pollutants from its shellfish hatchery without the required permit.

~ Larry Eifert

Both the U.S. District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that Coast is not exempt from the permit requirement because it discharges pollutants into a navigable water of the U.S. through “pipes, ditches and channels.” The permit process should provide the public with more information about the pollutants and amount and frequency of pollution from the facility, as well as limit pollution from the facility to protect water quality. Attorney Paul Kampmeier, of Kampmeier & Knutsen PLCC, represents OFCO in the litigation and has represented other conservation organizations working to save endangered species in the Salish Sea.

In a related matter, sampling dissolved oxygen in Quilcene Bay this fall appears to show dangerous, near-hypoxic conditions in the water. OFCO believes the degraded quality of Quilcene Bay is due in large part to the increased operations at Coast Seafoods’ facility. OFCO has asked Ecology to require Coast Seafoods to treat effluents before discharging into the bay, and to monitor and report on discharges. Read the full letter here.

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Dept. of Natural Resources Releases Final Environmental Impact Study on Marbled Murrelets – Not Enough Conservation

Washington’s DNR released the FEIS of their preferred alternative for the state’s Long-Term Conservation Strategy for the Marbled Murrelet. The Strategy, overdue by decades, is in its final stages and DNR has submitted its application for a proposed amendment to the 1997 Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). OFCO works with the Washington Forest Law Center (WFLC), Washington Environmental Council, Conservation Northwest and Seattle Audubon in the Marbled Murrelet Coalition to advocate for more conservation for the Marbled Murrelet. That means protecting more of the old-growth condition forests where they nest.

~ Al Clark

The Marbled Murrelet spends most of its life at sea, but lays its single egg in moss-covered large branches. DNR’s preferred alternative (Alt H) will not conserve enough forest to save the bird from extirpation in Washington.

The FEIS is the final step in the application process to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Service and DNR have, for the past three years, conducted a joint NEPA/SEPA process. DNR has been responsive to all stakeholders and generous with their time and efforts to assist the public in its important role in setting environmental policy. However, a final and most important step was constrained by the joint process and a potential SEPA error occurred, resulting in a limitation on the public’s rights to engage in the decision-making process. We feel that the limitation on the SEPA process must be addressed. Click here to read the WFLC letter to the state Board of Natural Resources.

Most importantly, the Marbled Murrelet Coalition and conservation groups have two fundamental disagreements with DNR: the standard the agency must meet, and whether the fiduciary duty to the trusts that earn revenue from timber harvest takes precedence over the Endangered Species Act. Click here to read the WFLC article in the King County Bar Bulletin.

DNR believes that the trust fiduciary duty means that it can only mitigate the “take” of Marbled Murrelets, while maximizing the revenue for the beneficiaries to the trust. Conservation scientists and groups believe that the take=mitigation approach in Alt H will ensure that the Marbled Murrelet will be extirpated in Washington. In our view, DNR must live up to the HCP standard, which is that DNR must adopt a plan that “substantially contributes to the recovery” of the threatened seabird.

The Marbled Murrelet Coalition proposed a “Conservation Alternative” that was not analyzed by DNR. The Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Environmental Protection Agency commented on an earlier version of Alt H, which led to an alternative that would protect thousands more acres of habitat (Alt F). Alt F is based on a 2008 Science Report conducted by DNR and WDFW.

The Board of Natural Resources, DNR’s oversight body, will take up all of these issues in their meetings in October, November and December of this year. U.S. Fish and Wildlife will consider the application and release its Biological Opinion of Alt H very soon. Alt H is not enough conservation for the Marbled Murrelet–not enough by far.