Oak Harbor, Coupeville EIS meetings draw much different crowds

Navy public meetings held to inform the public may have resulted in attendees leaving with more questions than answers.

Last week, Navy officials conducted a series of five open house public meetings on Whidbey, in Port Townsend and in the San Juan Islands to provide information on a draft Environmental Impact Statement on a projected increase in the number of EA-18G Growler aircraft based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

The final open house was held Friday in Coupeville and, not surprisingly, drew the largest turnout, according to Navy officials.

Growler aircraft carrier landing practices at Outlying Field Coupeville, located just south of town, has been a source of complaints among some members of the Central Whidbey community, in particular the anti-jet noise group Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve.

The Navy is projecting an increase in the number of landing practices at the field over several years.

During the EIS meetings held in Coupeville and Port Townsend, groups of people, some of them holding protest signs, staged a silent sit-in to protest Growler jet noise. Hundreds of others grilled the experts on a host of issues and submitted written comments.

NAS Whidbey Commanding Officer Capt. Geoff Moore said he is glad the Coupeville meeting drew such a large turn out.

“It would be a disappointment if we didn’t have people show up,” he said. “We want to encourage a dialogue.”

More than 200 people attended a Dec. 6 EIS meeting held in Oak Harbor and provided 77 comments, but there were no demonstrations, protest sign waving or sit ins.

“Several of the attendees voiced appreciation for the educational quality of the presentations and willingness of the Navy’s team to engage in discussions with members of the community,” said base Public Afairs Officer Mike Welding in an email to the Whidbey News-Times.

In Coupeville, however, a number of residents attending the EIS meeting expressed anger or apprehension over the increase in jet noise expected at OLF Coupeville in the near future.

Stephanie Sterling, a Coupeville resident of 10 years, said she is concerned about the cumulative impact of the jet noise.

“We signed disclosure agreements, but that was not a blank-check to fly all the time, and all night,” she said.

Sterling said she often has difficulty carrying on conversations inside her home.

Like others in attendance, she voiced concerns about the impact of increased jet noise on Ebey’s Reserve and the unique cultural landscape that would impact visitor’s experience at the national reserve.

Others attending the Coupeville meeting expressed skepticism about the Navy’s attempt to collect public input for the EIS.

Tom Ewell wondered aloud how serious the Navy is going to take the comments from Central Whidbey residents.

“I would like them to cite an example as to where information from the people actually made a difference,” said Ewell.

Ewell said he is inclined not to trust in the integrity of the public meetings.