Navy leaders prefer that all EA-18G Growler aircraft carrier landing practice occur at the Outlying Field Coupeville in the future.
While that won’t happen, the Central Whidbey community will almost certainly experience a big increase in the amount of noise from the Navy jets in the future as more of the airplanes come to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, according to a federally mandated draft report released last week.
The question is how much. The number of jet operations at OLF Coupeville a year could increase by as little as 2,200 to as much as 29,000, depending on which scenarios Navy officials eventually chooses. The average year baseline for OLF Coupeville is 6,100 operations, the report states.
The draft Environmental Impact Statement for EA-18G Growlers at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island looks at a range of potential environmental effects associated with the addition of 35 or 36 Growlers at the base, which will result in a 47 percent increase in Growler operations on Whidbey Island. It concludes that jet noise is not conclusively linked to health problems.
The study looks at three alternatives for distributing the new Growlers between aircraft-carrier-based squadrons and expeditionary squadrons, the latter of which don’t require carrier practice.
Also, the study considers three different scenarios for distribution of the touch-and-go practice between Naval Air Station Whidbey Island’s Ault Field Base on North Whidbey and the small runway near Coupeville.
Specifically, it considers 80 percent of operations at Ault Field and 20 percent at OLF; 50 percent at each; and 20 percent at Ault Field and 80 percent at OLF.
The draft contains information that seems to favor steering the bulk of the practices to OLF Coupeville. Each operation at Ault Field affects many more people than those in more-sparsely-populated Central Whidbey.
Additional aircraft training at Ault Field will cause congestion at the busy runways, the draft says.
The report also states that Navy leaders prefer OLF Coupeville for all aircraft carrier landing practice because it “more closely replicates the pattern and conditions at sea and therefore provides superior training.”
Still, the Navy is also mindful of the “unavoidable adverse effect” the noise has on communities, the draft states.
A Central Whidbey group, Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, have been outspoken in their criticism of jet noise, arguing that the noisy operations don’t belong in the middle of a rural area, the noise causes health problems and it diminishes the quality of life for residents.
The alleged link between jet noise and health sparked debate recently when COER presented the Island County Board of Health with studies, opinions from medical experts and anecdotal stories they felt prove the noise is hazardous; they asked the board to address the issue from a public health standpoint. The board members, however, passed a resolution in a 3-2 vote, saying that the evidence was inconclusive and they were not going to take action.
COER filed a complaint with the state Board of Health against the county’s health officer and the director of public health, accusing them of shirking their duty to respond to the public health problem. Last week, the board voted to direct staff to investigate further.
The Navy, however, reviewed a series of studies about the affect of noise on health and concluded that a link between health problems and jet noise is inconclusive, the draft states.
Ken Pickard, COER president, was critical of the EIS and questioned many of its findings and methods, including the reliance on sound levels that are averaged over time.
Still, the EIS does acknowledges that jet noise may have some negative effects.
Aircraft noise does affect real estate values, the EIS concludes. The average effect is 0.5 percent per decibel, the study states.
A high background noise environment may affect children’s learning and cognitive abilities, especially children in areas with average sound levels of 65 decibels and above. As many as 3,380 children on Whidbey will live in the 65-decibel or high zone with the increase in Growlers.
At least two studies suggested a link between aircraft noise and children’s reading comprehension.
“The effects may be small,” the EIS states, “but may be of particular concern for children who are already scholastically challenged.”
The potential for any hearing loss cause by Growlers is slim to nonexistent, the EIS found, though a preliminary study of the effect of single-event, high-noise exposure suggest the possibility of permanent hearing loss.
The maximum noise level is 114 decibels on Admirals Drive near OLF Coupeville. The number of times that occurs a year is currently about 267, but it could go as high as 2,540 in the future, the EIS states.
The draft EIS is available for review online at www.whidbeyeis.com. Hard copies are at area libraries.
The 75-day comment period concludes Jan. 25.
An Oak Harbor meeting on the EIS is 4-7 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 6 at the Elks Lodge. A meeting in Coupeville is 4-7 p.m., Friday, Dec. 9 at the Coupeville High School Commons.
People will be able to ask questions and submit comments. In addition, comments can be submitted at the project website or mailed to EA-18G EIS Project Manager, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Atlantic: Code EV21/SS, 6506 Hampton Blvd.,Norfolk, VA, 23508.