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Navy EIS to look at more than just noise

Though the scope of the Navy’s planned Environmental Impact Statement is still being determined, project managers said the study will be “comprehensive,” responsive to public feedback and will look at more than just jet noise.

The Navy maintains that an Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, was in the works for some time, but members of a Central Whidbey-based citizen group claim it’s the direct result of a lawsuit they filed against the Navy in July.

The group, Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, is calling for a complete closure of OLF, claiming that the outlying runway is unsafe.

Not only will the study be looking at noise, but it will also look at air quality, safety, the habitats of migratory birds and other factors, said Lisa Padgett, U.S. Fleet Forces Command project manager for the EIS.

“All the potential environmental effects,” Padgett said.

Padgett said the Navy has already begun an airspace and airfield analysis in preparation for the public forums to be held in December.

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 EIS process under the National Environmental Protection Act is a “very regimented” schedule with public input opportunities available throughout, according to Ted Brown, the Navy’s Installations and Environmental public affairs officer.

“Public input is very important to the process.”

An informational website will be launched for the public to access approximately three weeks in advance of the open houses, Padgett said.

After public comment is gathered, the Navy will determine the necessary scope of the EIS, he said.

The required training associated with the base will be determined, then the Navy will conduct a comprehensive noise analysis.

After a draft EIS is completed, one that includes all of the above information, more public comments will be taken, and the Navy will again address concerns.

When squadron or base facility changes are ordered, an Environmental Assessment, or EA, is routine, Brown explained. Once completed, officials determine whether or not the EA warrants the next step, an EIS. After an EA performed in 2005, the Navy determined that an EIS was not necessary, Padgett said.

An additional EA was performed in 2012, and this time, the Navy determined an EIS was necessary.

“In December, we heard about the potential for the Navy to procure two additional squadrons of the EA-18G expeditionary aircraft,” Padgett said.

“As the budget matured, it became more of a reality and in May we received the tasking (for the EIS).”

Two expeditionary, or land-based Growler squadrons will be joining the base along with two individual Growler aircraft assigned to the base for a total of 13 additional aircraft.

Navy representatives, including Padgett, have stressed that pilots flying in expeditionary Growler squadrons do not require ongoing Field Landing Carrier Practice, or touch-and-goes, because they are land-based squadrons.

The expeditionary pilots are required to get qualified once as part of their initial training syllabus. However, they are not required to requalify touch-and-goes with each deployment like the fleet-based squadrons.

“As discussed, all Navy electronic attack squadrons, or VAQ, pilots must complete carrier qualification during their initial VAQ training,” Brown said.

“That is the one time that an expeditionary VAQ pilot will perform FCLPs. By adding two additional expeditionary squadrons, we can expect a slight increase in pilot training requirements. Therefore, there will be a corresponding slight increase in number of pilots conducting initial training and requiring FCLP.”

“The draft EIS will quantify the increase in FCLP operations.”

Brown said the VAQ community comprises both the older EA-6B and the newer EA-18G aircraft, and they expect the transition to the EA-18G to be complete in 2016 based on current fiscal budget projections.

Currently, Brown said, there are nine fleet VAQ squadrons at NAS Whidbey, three expeditionary VAQ squadrons (land-based), one reserve expeditionary VAQ squadron (land-based, moved from Andrews to Whidbey in July) and one VAQ training squadron.

In addition to the electronic attack, or VAQ, squadron, the Navy is currently transitioning from the older P-3C to the new P-8A, which is based on Boeing 737. Under a 2008 Record of Decision, the Navy would home base four P-8A squadrons at NAS Whidbey Island. The Navy is currently studying home basing either six or seven P-8A squadrons at NAS Whidbey Island.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen announced in May that this increase will translate to an increase from 24 to 49 P-8A aircraft coming to NAS Whidbey.

Brown said that the Navy is definitely looking at this possibility but the EIS will determine the final outcome.

 

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