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