Meeting planned on OLF concerns

Island County and Coupe-ville elected officials are meeting next week with citizens to hear concerns about jet noise from operations at the U.S. Navy’s Outlying Field.

The meeting is 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 19 at the Coupeville Recreation Hall, 901 N.W. Alexander St.

Organized and hosted by Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson and Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard, the meeting’s objective is to provide a forum for residents to publicly talk about jet noise and how it has changed in recent years.

“We just want to provide an opportunity for people to come in person and voice their concerns,” Conard said.

Complaints about jet noise over Central Whidbey are nothing new, in fact they are practically a seasonal pastime.

This past year was different, however, as operations at the airstrip increase. Also, some residents claim the EA-18G Growler is louder than its predecessor, the EA-6B Prowler.

Conard said she has noticed only a moderate difference in noise levels at her home in Coupeville, calling the new jets “a little bit louder” by her ears.

“But I trust what people are saying,” Conard said. “It sounds like they are (louder) and we need to see what we can do about it.”

“I believe the noise is a problem and that the impact is a problem,” she said.

Price Johnson said she can’t say whether the new jets are louder or are having adverse health impacts, as some residents assert.

Nonetheless, she is encouraging residents who have collected decibel readings to bring their findings to the meeting for discussion.

Identifying strategies that might mitigate noise impacts on residents is another focus of the forum.

Conard and Price Johnson say the future of OLF will not be decided by base or local elected officials.

However, they said, operations are under the control of base leaders, and there may be opportunity to advocate for changes to make the noise tolerable.

“What I’m hoping for is a respectful and productive event,” Price Johnson said.

“This isn’t about being pro-Navy or anti-Navy.”

Central Whidbey farmer Valerie Reuther, who will facilitate the event, agrees.

The format is designed to avoid a disputes between airstrip critics and Navy supporters.

“The idea is we really want the community to dialogue.”

Rather than giving each person a turn at the microphone, attendees will receive a questionnaire. Attendees may be divided into groups and asked to write their comments and suggestions, Reuther said.

Those steps may prove wise as the issue of jet noise is highly charged.

Sedro Woolley resident Joe Kunzler, a Navy proponent and airstrip supporter, said he plans to attend and confront OLF critics about their motives.

Spending “hundreds of millions of dollars” to build a new airstrip to “save their reserve” is unacceptable, he said.

In a letter to the editor in the Whidbey News-Times,  Kunzler characterized the upcoming meeting as a “community confrontation.”

“I’m not against solving this but I just think we need to be cost effective,” Kunzler said.

On the other side, Michael Monson said he is grateful the event is being organized, but added he believes there is only one solution — to cease all flight operations at the air strip.

“There is no possible mitigation,” Monson said. “The only answer is for the carrier-based EA-18Gs to be transferred someplace else.”

Conard said the Navy was not invited to participate in an official capacity, but is not barred from attending the meeting.

NAS Whidbey spokesman Mike Welding said Wednesday the Navy is not sending an official representative.

Staff members from Congressman Rick Larsen’s office and U.S. Sen. Patty  Murray’s and Sen. Maria Cantwell’s offices are expected to attend.

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