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Anti-noise group says debate is devolving into vandalism
Members of a North Whidbey citizens’ group say they’re worried that vandalism of signs protesting the noise from Navy jets portends greater crimes in the future.
They also say they’re concerned about what they perceive as a lack of response from law enforcement.
Becky Spraitzar, a member of Concerned Island Citizens, said she was alarmed over the weekend when vandals wrote graffiti on a sign on her property and damaged it, apparently with an axe.
“I felt violated. It’s scary,” she said, adding that she wonders what would have happened if she had confronted the axe-wielding vandals.
The sign stands in Spraitzer’s front yard along State Highway 20, near the intersection of Jones Road.
Spraitzar said she is one of the few members of Concerned Island Citizens willing to go on the record about their thoughts on the controversy over the noise associated with aircraft at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, particularly the new EA-18G Growler.
One woman said she fears losing a government job if she or her husband speak openly.
On the other side, people at a recent pro-Navy rally also expressed concerns about possible retribution for speaking their minds.
Joe Kunzler, an outspoken supporter of the Navy and flight operations at Outlying Field Coupeville, said he’s warned “his people” not to vandalize signs, which he called “tacky.”
Kunzler recently started selling pro-Navy signs and other items on a website.
“I would rather see people put their own signs up than turn to vandalism,” he said.
Spraitzar said the community discussion is getting out of hand. Her group has put up five signs, which she valued at $150 each, in different locations on the island. Three of them were vandalized multiple times; one completely disappeared.
“We’re not anti-Navy. We’re not,” she said, adding that they don’t want the Navy base closed.
“There are other alternatives out there that can be done.”
Spraitzar said she reported sign vandalism to the Island County Sheriff’s Office many times, but no deputies ever responded. She also claims she was told that deputies don’t have time to respond to such low-priority incidents.
Spraitzer said someone threw a “sparkler bomb” into her driveway this past summer, which she suspects was related to the jet-noise signs on her property. It didn’t go off and she brought it to the sheriff’s precinct office, but claims a deputy refused to open a case report.
Garrett Newkirk, also a member of the group, said he’s reported vandalism to a sign on his property three times, but nobody responded. He said he couldn’t even get a deputy to open a report to track the incidents.
Such reports are necessary for insurance claims, he said.
Newkirk claims a deputy told him that “he doesn’t consider it a crime and he is for the jets.”
Island County Sheriff Mark Brown said he explained to Newkirk that his department is understaffed and deputies don’t always have time to respond to reports of sign vandalism.
Calls are prioritized as they come in, and deputies on the duty sometimes can’t respond, he said.
“It has nothing to do with politics,” he said. “We’re investigating crimes and we’ll continue to do that based on priorities.”
Spraitzar said the group plans to place new signs next to the vandalized signs.
The replacement signs will say, “Vandalism isn’t patriotism,” or something similar, she said.