The Navy said this week it will conduct an Environmental Impact Statement for Outlying Field Coupeville and Whidbey Island Naval Air Station on North Whidbey.
While the Navy states that EIS plans have been in the works for some time, members of a Coupeville-based citizen group claim the decision is the result of a federal lawsuit they filed in July against the Navy.
The group, Citizen’s of the Ebey’s Reserve for a Healthy, Safe and Peaceful Environment, or COER, hoped the lawsuit would compel the Navy to suspend training operations at OLF and spur a new environmental impact study.
The Navy suspended operations at OLF in June though the end of 2013.
Though the demands of the lawsuit have apparently been met by the Navy, the group’s attorney, David Mann, said they doesn’t intend to dismiss their lawsuit just yet.
Mann expressed concerns with some of the language in the Navy’s notice of intent, which he suspects indicate that they will be using the most current noise levels as the baseline from which they will do their study.
“What they looked at in 2005 was wrong,” Mann said. “They have to address the existing and additional noise impacts. We are going to wait until we see the scope of what they Navy’s going to do.”
Nevertheless, Mann said, “members of COER are of course ecstatic that the Navy has finally conceded that a complete environmental analysis is necessary. It is unfortunate that it required that we file federal litigation to get the Navy’s attention, but we are pleased that we provided the necessary catalyst for action.”
Ted Brown, the Navy’s Installations and Environmental public affairs officer, said the EIS is part of ongoing Department of Defense strategies and that conducting an EIS is routine when new squadrons are introduced to a Navy base.
The EIS will evaluate the potential environmental effects associated with ongoing EA-18G Growler airfield operations at NAS Whidbey Island’s Ault Field and OLF, including the proposed introduction of two additional expeditionary Electronic Attack (VAQ) squadrons and the addition of three aircraft to the Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS).
Unlike the additional of three Growlers assigned to the Fleet Replacement Squadron, the two expeditionary VAQ squadrons are land-based squadrons, and therefore are not required to complete touch-and-go training.
Three open houses are scheduled as follows: 4-8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3 at Coupeville High School; 4-8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4 at Oak Harbor High School and 4-8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5 at Anacortes Middle School.
“The scoping process will be used to identify community concerns and local issues to be addressed in the EIS,” the notice states. “Federal agencies, state agencies, local agencies, Native American Indian Tribes and Nations, the public and interested persons are encouraged to provide comments to the DON to identify specific issues or topics of environmental concern that the commenter believes the DON should consider.”
The Department of the Navy said environmental analyses were completed in 2005 and 2012 when the base was looking at replacing the EA-6B Prowler with the new Growler, and that the studies are part of an ongoing effort to evaluate and expand the base.
The Navy also intends to look at constructing and renovating facilities at Ault Field over a three-year period and station an additional 860 personnel and their families.
Ken Pickard, president of the Coupeville citizens group, said in a prepared statement that things appear to be “going well” and that both the suspension of operations at OLF and the EIS are a product of the group’s lawsuit.
“Interestingly, immediately after getting sued the Navy suspended all flights at OLF Coupeville through the end of 2013,” Pickard said. “So, they have not flown here since May and what a blessing it has been, our homes are habitable, our gardens able to be visited and worked in and all are so thankful to have this break and enjoy our homes and national park here.”
The group has retained aviation attorney Barbara Lichman to develop “additional actions we might be able to take against the Navy and Island County …”
Pickard said the group is also on the verge of retaining an airport safety engineering firm to do “a crash/risk analysis on OLF due to hundreds of homes being located in the crash zones at either end of the OLF runway. Their preliminary take is … it is very dangerous. Shame on the Navy for risking our health and lives while claiming to protect us.”