Jet noise foes take aim at pro-Navy Island County commissioner

Michael Monson, president of Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, Catherine Andrews and Garrett Newkirk read a letter to county commissioners Monday criticizing Jill Johnson’s Navy support. - Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times
Michael Monson, president of Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, Catherine Andrews and Garrett Newkirk read a letter to county commissioners Monday criticizing Jill Johnson’s Navy support.
— image credit: Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times

Representatives of two citizens groups that complained about Navy jet noise took aim at Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson on Monday.

Michael Monson, president of Coupeville-based Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, or COER, and Garrett Newkirk, member of North-end group Concerned Citizens of Island County, took turns reading a letter to commissioners calling Johnson’s recent letter of support for the Navy “misleading and inappropriate.”

Also reading was COER member Catherine Andrews.

Johnson presented her letter of support for the Navy and its operations, along with an economic impact study, to base commander Capt. Mike Nortier during one of last week’s public scoping meetings for the Environmental Impact Statement on the Navy’s new EA-18G Growler.

In their prepared comments, Monson and Newkirk said that Johnson’s written support “was not voted on by the Board of Island County Commissioners. Neither does it represent the opinion of all or most of the citizens of Whidbey Island.”

In their letter, they said a main concern of the anti-noise group is Johnson’s use of official Island County stationary to write her letter of support for the Navy and its operations.

“Commissioner Johnson has the right to express her personal opinion; however, using her title of commissioner and doing so on Island County Board of Commissioners’ letterhead is misleading and inappropriate.

“It gives the false impression that her personal opinion is the opinion of the county commission,” the anti-noise group said. “It is not.”

Johnson responded, saying that Commissioner Helen Price Johnson held a public forum for those concerned about jet noise in June  without obtaining consensus from the board.

Price Johnson agreed, adding that she herself has written similar letters.

It is common for commissioners to do so as long as they make it clear it is a personal opinion and not the consensus of the board, Price Johnson said.

Johnson said the anti-noise groups’ public criticism is “gamesmanship” intended to “shake her up.”

“It’s just a tactic designed to get under my skin and get a rise out of me,” Johnson said.

Commissioner Kelly Emerson was absent from Monday’s meeting.

About a dozen anti-noise group members attended the commissioners’ regular meeting.

The groups’ open letter about Johnson was addressed to U.S. Navy Admiral Bill Gortney, Ted Brown, EA-18G Growler environmental study project manager, and Nortier.

“Please understand that Johnson is not speaking for many citizens in Oak Harbor and across Whidbey Island,” the letter said. “Many citizens, including the growing number of those in the undersigned organizations, do not now and will never accept as a reality the hazardous levels of noise saturating our communities from Growler operations.

“Johnson simply does not speak for us on this issue.”

In her response to the group’s statement, Johnson referred to an email from Monson calling into question her Christian values because she is a Navy supporter.

In the November email, Monson also accused Johnson of putting the needs of the business community before the safety of the residents.

“As a practicing Christian, how do you justify putting economic interests before the health and well being of fellow humans?” Monson wrote. “Don’t your Christian principles take a higher authority?

“Mine do, I live my faith every day, not just Sunday,” Monson wrote. “I find that a very strange thing for you to do. Don’t your fellow human beings come before the greedy desires of the business community? How can you possibly justify this? You no longer work for the (Oak Harbor) Chamber of Commerce.”

Monson, who described himself as a devout Christian, defended his email Tuesday. He said he didn’t intend it to be “below the belt comment,” but simply a question “from one Christian to another.”

Johnson said Monday she can very easily reconcile her Christian values with Navy support because she believes “poverty is cruel.”

Some Navy supporters said they fear that a closure of OLF Coupeville would place NAS Whidbey at risk of closure, putting thousands of people out of work, Johnson said.

COER filed a lawsuit against the Navy in July asking a judge to compel the Navy to complete an EIS on the Growler, which the group claims is louder than previous aircraft.

The group is calling for a closure of Outlying Field Coupeville, where carrier landing practices are conducted.

The Navy announced plans to complete an EIS in July but said plans for the study have been in the works for some time. The Navy has also conceded that it exceeded estimated touch-and-gos at  Outyling Field in Coupeville by about 3,000 over the past two years.

Touch-and-go operations were suspended in May for 2013, but the Navy has announced plans to resume the operations in January.

“I’ve weighed all the facts and right now my focus is the impact this will have on our economy,” Johnson said Tuesday. “I’m not turning my back on people who are affected, but … my priority is protecting this economy.

“If there are ways to mitigate the effects, let’s do it, but I will discuss that at the appropriate time, in the appropriate place… which is not grandstanding at a microphone,” Johnson said.


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