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Pro-Outlying Field rallies building momentum in Oak Harbor despite fears
The first rally supporting the Navy’s use of Outlying Field Coupeville was held July 27, despite fears expressed by some of a negative backlash.
Twenty to 30 people attended the event, and a second rally begins at 10 a.m. today, Saturday, Aug. 3 at the intersection of Pioneer Way and State Highway 20.
Many of the ralliers said they’re turning out in support of the Navy and in response to a federal lawsuit over jet noise at OLF Coupeville.
Citizens of the Ebey’s Reserve for a Healthy, Safe and Peaceful Environment filed the federal lawsuit in July. In their complaint, members of the group are asking that the Navy conduct a new, in-depth environmental impact study due to the aircraft noise.
Though a reason wasn’t given, in June the Navy suspended field carrier landing practice at OLF through the end of the calendar year.
Alongside a handful of Navy spouses and retired sailors who attended Saturday’s rally, a few city council members and candidates were in attendance.
Those who attended pro-OLF Saturday’s rally showed their support with American flags and signs with messages like “I support the sound of freedom” and “honk if you (heart) freedom.”
Many refused to talk on the record or give their names, however, and said they’re afraid they’ll be confronted or harassed.
Oak Harbor City Councilwoman Beth Munns, who attended the rally, said that for an impromptu event, she felt like the turnout was good.
Munns said she attended the event to support the Navy and its integral role on Whidbey Island.
“Our pilots need that training,” Munns said. “It is essential. It’s a little noise here and there, but it’s been there since 1941 and when you buy a property down there you should know what you’re getting yourself into.”
Oak Harbor City Council candidate Skip Potilla, who also attended the event, served 20 years in the Navy as a bombadier and navigator, trained at OLF during his time stationed at NAS Whidbey.
“The training provided at OLF is invaluable for landing on aircraft carriers,” said Pohtilla.
Information about the rallies is being spread via a pro-OLF Facebook page. The site quickly swelled to more than 3,000 “likes.”
The creator of the page spoke to the Whidbey News-Times Thursday, but declined to give her name.
Organizers of the page, she said, “wouldn’t feel safe releasing their name due to their link to the base.”
On Tuesday the site posted a reminder about today’s rally, encouraging attendees to “bring signs, flags and bumper stickers.”
By default, Wendy Shingleton, owner of Squadron Spirit Apparel and Gifts on Ault Field Road, has become a public spokesperson for the pro-OLF movement.
While Shingleton sells OLF and Navy supportive items, she said she is not involved in organizing rallies or managing the Facebook page.
Shingleton said Thursday via email that, since being quoted in an article in the July 27 News-Times, along with an appearance on a Seattle-based TV news station Wednesday, she hasn’t received any negative responses.
“I’ve had nothing but positive visitors, calls, and comments,” Shingleton wrote.
Fear of harassment by OLF opponents may not be completely unfounded.
A sailor and his family who lived onsite at Outlying Field Coupeville requested a relocation in mid-July in response to “incidents” involving trespassing at the runway.
The name of the sailor, who managed OLF’s daily operations, is not being released.
Public Affairs Officer for Whidbey Island Naval Air Station Mike Welding confirmed that the sailor was relocated July 12 as a result of several disturbances.
“The sailor and his family who lived at OLF asked to be relocated due to several incidents where people came onto the facility without permission, including a Seattle-based media outlet,” Welding said in an email statement.
“We would ask that local citizens understand that the Outlying Landing Field in Coupeville is Navy property and that they should refrain from trespassing on the property without obtaining prior permission.”
Michael Monson, one the directors of the citizens group who filed a federal lawsuit and objects to the jet noise, said Wednesday that the group still believes that “there is a hazardous noise issue” at OLF, and that the noise is “hurting the health and welfare of South Whidbey residents.”
“I grant them all the freedom in the world,” Monson said of the pro-OLF groups.
“I hope it’s a beautiful day and they have a good turn out. But that’s emotion they are responding with. … We deal with facts.”
“If only one side had a voice, this would not be a democracy,” he said. “Our (voice) we don’t have to do on a street corner.
“Ours will be decided in a court of law.”
Asked if he knew of harassment or trespassing at OLF, Monson said, “none of our people would do that.”
“We don’t believe in vigilante justice.”