Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve jet-noise forum looks at health effects

Jutta Wicker speaks to fellow residents at Tuesday’s presentation on the health effects of jet noise in Coupeville. The event was put on the Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, who sued the Navy in July over what the group claims is an increase in jet noise. - Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times
Jutta Wicker speaks to fellow residents at Tuesday’s presentation on the health effects of jet noise in Coupeville. The event was put on the Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, who sued the Navy in July over what the group claims is an increase in jet noise.
— image credit: Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times

Frustration was apparent Tuesday as more than 100 people gathered to hear health professionals talk about the effects of jet noise on adults and children.

After the presentations, a microphone was passed around to allow audience members to comment and ask questions.

Occupational Specialist and Registered Nurse Karen Bowman warned of the impact of overexposure to extreme noise levels.

According to studies, she said, the brain interprets loud noises as danger, creating a chain reaction of stress hormones, adding that may result in increased anxiety, hypertension and cardiac disease.

“We do know there is significant health effects with jet noise, and it’s increased with night time noise exposure,” Bowman said.

University of Washington researcher Katherine Karr admits that the best option health-wise was for the source of the jet noise to be removed. However, members of the audience scoffed when Karr suggested that, to mitigate the effects, they simply remove themselves from proximity to the noise or wear protective earplugs.

UW researcher Samantha Serrano said that she was unable to find specific research on the effects of military aircraft noise on children. However, she presented data about the effect of commercial airports on children.

Children living near airports have more difficulties with reading, finishing tasks and staying focused, she said.

Studies on physical health impacts for children, such as hearing loss, are largely inconclusive, she said, and more research will need to be done in this field.

“Please come to the scoping meeting,” said North Whidbey resident Shannon Stone during the comment period. “If we’re not heard, nothing happens. Show up with your information, your anger, your love of your grandchildren. … They need to hear how we live.”

Former county commissioner Angie Homola told the group that she was a Navy wife and advocated for the P-8As because she thinks the diversity in aircraft would decrease the effects of the Prowler and Growler noise.

Homola said the community needs to work with the Navy to resolve the issue.

“None of the Navy folks want to hurt those folks,” Homola said. “They don’t want to damage them. But we have to ask the difficult questions so we are protected”

“You can say to the Navy, ‘How are you possibly going to protect my children playing in a ballfield?’” asked Michael Monson, one of the event’s coordinators, in opening comments.

“What is that doing to you? That is what we are here to learn tonight.”

The group organizing the event, Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, or COER, filed a federal suit against the Navy in July over jet noise at Outlying Field Coupeville, part of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

In its lawsuit, COER demanded an Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, be conducted by the Navy.

Detractors claim that the Navy’s new aircraft, the EA-18G Growler is louder than its predecessor, the EA-6B Prowler, and that the Navy performed far more landing practices at OLF Coupeville than it estimated.

The Navy, which suspended operations at OLF until the end of the year, announced in July its intention to initiate an EIS.

Three open houses hosted by the Navy 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.

Monson announced at the end of the meeting that a Navy liaison who was in the audience had walked out of the meeting “in a huff.”

“That’s your Navy,” Monson said.

The Navy employee, Jennifer Meyer, is a liaison officer for NAS Whidbey, but attended as a private citizen, said Mike Welding, the base’s public affairs officer.

“Jennifer was there as her own person, just to listen and observe.”

Meyer had asked for the microphone to ask a question of one of the health professionals, Monson said.

Monson asked that Meyer identify herself as a Navy employee. She refused and left. While some other speakers identified themselves by location or profession, no one else was asked by Monson to identify themselves.

“I wish she’d had the guts to stay,” Monson later said.

A handful of people who spoke labeled Congressman Rick Larsen as “pro-Navy” and unsympathetic to their concerns.

“Jobs, jobs, jobs, that’s all that matters to Rick Larsen,” said Oak Harbor resident Tim Verschuyl. “We have to stand up and make our voices heard.”

In response, Larsen’s office issued the following email:

“Rep. Larsen has met with community members, elected officials and NAS Whidbey Island leadership on this issue at least 14 separate times to discuss concerns about aircraft noise at NAS Whidbey and the outlying field.

“At his encouragement, the base restarted its community leaders meetings to provide a forum for local community leaders to discuss these kinds of issues and the base started providing a lot more information about operations at the field.

“Rep. Larsen is committed to ensuring that NAS Whidbey Island remains one of the preeminent military installations used by our armed forces, while also ensuring that those who live near the base are not negatively impacted by base operations,” Larsen’s office said.

Directly responding to Verschuyl’s comment about jobs, Larson’s office said, “the constituent is absolutely correct that Rep. Larsen is absolutely focused on job creation and investing in the foundation of long-term economic growth in Northwest Washington.”

Bowman, who said she worked in politics for years, encouraged attendees to continue contacting their elected representatives at every level with their concerns.

“The squeaky wheel gets the oil,” Bowman said.

“We need to have more from you. It’s a grassroots effort. Let your legislators know how you feel. You need to either thank them or spank them.”


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