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Navy says OLF Coupeville barrier was years in planning

The recent installation of cement blocks around Outlying Field Coupeville is drawing criticism from area residents who claim the Navy failed to consult with the community.

More than 1,000 40-inch cement Jersey barriers were placed around the perimeter of the OLF, stamped with the words “government property, do not trespass.” Additional fencing will also be placed at the entryways.

Plans to install the blocks to increase security at OLF Coupeville has been in the works for years, according to officials at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

“We’ve been trying to get those blocks out there for some time,” said Bill MacMillan, NAS Whidbey airfield manager and deputy operations officer.

“I had this identified as a security risk a long time ago.”

Maryon Attwood, a member of the Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, or COER, said she thinks that the barriers are a “keep out” sign to island visitors and that the Navy should have consulted neighbors about the appearance.

“They should have sought local input,” Attwood said. “That’s my group’s continuing problem with them. They talk the talk but they don’t walk the walk.”

COER members speculated that the cement blocks were an added security as a result of their criticism of the jet noise and the Navy’s intention to resume touch-and-go operations at OLF Coupeville in January.

The group filed a federal lawsuit against the Navy in July, asking a judge to compel the Navy to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement or EIS.

COER alleges the Navy’s new EA-18G Growlers are louder than previous aircraft and that the Navy is performing more operations at OLF than estimated in recent years.

MacMillan said he’s proposed additional security at OLF since 2005, but it took a drunk driver who caused damage to OLF Coupeville’s arresting gear to raise the priority level of the project.

In March 2007, 46-year-old Coupeville resident James Slone led police on a high-speed chase onto OLF, according to court documents.

Slone pleaded guilty and was convicted in May 2007 on charges of attempting to elude police and driving under the influence.

According to the police report, Slone sped up and down the runway running over arresting gear causing the vehicle to spark and smoke. A tire was torn off and the car was running on a rim.

The drunk driving incident has been compacted with other incidents such as vandalism, driving onto the property and “doing donuts,” harrasment of onsite military staff and bullet holes in structures, said NAS Whidbey’s Public Affairs Officer Mike Welding.

A first round of blocks were placed out at OLF in 2009 at the easiest entry points to make it more difficult to enter, and protecting the Navy’s millions of dollars worth of equipment at the field, Welding said.

Attwood said she wonders why the Navy is doing it now and not back in 2005 when it says it first identified a need.

“The story seems weak,” Attwood said. “To me it looks like a power play, and I think that’s how a lot of people view it.”

While number of people have contacted the Navy about the perceived “sudden” added security, Welding said, this type of project takes time.

“You have to put forth a request to get funding through the Department of Defense where things are prioritized according to need,” he explained.

Welding said he saw funding requests for additional security at OLF dating to 2008, but requests may have been made prior to that time as well.

A complaint shared by Attwood and some other area residents is that the Jersey barriers are an eyesore in an area that abut Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve.

“It’s the entry way to Ebey’s Reserve and the second oldest town in Washington State,” said Attwood. “They had a long time to talk to local people. They did what they thought they should do from their military point of view and did not get additional ideas from the civilian community.”

Jackie Queen, an environmental planner for the Navy base, said the Navy contacted the appropriate state agencies as well as local tribes before resuming the project.

The barriers along Highway 20 were placed behind existing bushes in the hopes that the blocks will be obscured as the plants grow, Queen said.

The cost of the project is $115,279.64, Welding said.

According to the National Historic Preservation Act, projects involving national parks like Ebey’s Reserve must be approved by the state Historic Preservation Officer, said Greg Griffith, deputy state historic preservation officer.

The Navy contacted the state office Sept. 11 and were issued a letter later that month stating that there would be “no adverse effect” to the historic property due to the additional security, Griffith said.

 

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