Residents urged to respond to Navy impacts

An anti-noise group is urging residents to take action when it comes to the Navy’s impact on Central Whidbey.

More than 100 people crowded into the United Methodist Church in Coupeville last week to learn more about a draft Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, on the increase in number of EA-18G Growlers at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, as well as the Navy’s plans to test wells for a potentially harmful chemical that’s in firefighting foam.

The meeting was hosted by Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, also known as COER. Leaders of the group urged people to stay informed and to make their voices heard by commenting on the draft EIS, contacting elected leaders or donate to COER to help fund independent studies by experts. Those with wells being tested by the Navy should consider independent testing, the group said.

COER leaders also asked concerned people who are not comfortable with the outspoken and aggressive group to consider becoming part of a new, more diplomatic group that’s forming.

COER has put the issue of jet noise in Central Whidbey in headlines across the region over the last few years. The Navy uses the Outlying Field Coupeville for Growler touch-and-go landing practice. COER argues that the noise is harmful to people’s health and that the operations could be conducted at a different location.

The group filed a federal lawsuit to force the Navy to do an EIS on the Growlers. The Navy later decided to do the study because of the increase in the number of Growlers planned for Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. It also temporarily reduced the number of flights at OLF Coupeville over the last three years.

Ken Pickard, president of COER, gave a speech at the gathering in which he said his late father would have been a community leader and rallied his neighbors to fight the Navy’s plans for increased flights at Outlying Field Coupeville.

“I can’t fill his shoes,” he said. “I’m too combative. I’m aggressive. I’m outspoken.”

He urged people not comfortable with COER to join a new group of “more reasonable people” or find other ways to make their voices heard. The increase in noise from the aircraft-landing practice at OLF Coupeville outlined in the draft EIS, he said, will be catastrophic.

“It will ruin everything that all of us live here for,” he said.

Kelly Keilwitz, a Coupeville business owner, spoke about the new group, which is still in the process of being formed. The group, he said, will work to inform and empower the community about such issues as jet noise and water pollution with a goal of preserving the character, fabric and history of Central Whidbey.

The group doesn’t have a name, though a possibility is “Save Coupeville,” according to Keilwitz.

The draft EIS states that 36 or 37 new Growlers coming to Whidbey will mean more touch-and-go practice and more noise, but the exact figures depend on how many of the new aircraft will go to carrier-based squadrons and how practice will be split between Ault Field and OLF Coupeville.

The draft finds that there’s no conclusive link between jet noise and health problems — as COER claims — but it confirms the possibility that noise may affect children’s cognitive development. The study described the Growlers as vital to national defense and explains that aircraft carrier landing practice is extremely important for the safety of pilots.

At the COER meeting last week, Greenbank resident Richard Abraham presented information about the chemical for which the Navy is testing wells. He spent a career running organizations and providing assistance to organizations responding to toxic pollution problems.

The Navy announced earlier last month that it would be testing drinking water wells around Naval Air Station’s Ault Field base on North Whidbey and the Outlying Field in rural Coupeville for the presence of perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid, which are chemicals present in firefighting foam used to put out aircraft fires.

The action came after the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year established lifetime health advisory levels for the compounds. Abraham said the science showing the harm caused by the chemicals, which are present in Teflon and many other common items, was established years ago.

He referenced the groundbreaking Tennant lawsuit against chemical company DuPont in which an attorney for a farmer whose cows were mysteriously dying uncovered evidence that the company knew about and concealed the dangers of perfluorooctanoic acid as far back as the 1950s.

A large, seven-year, peer-reviewed study as a result of lawsuits found a probable link between the chemical and kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease high cholesterol, pre-eclampsia and ulcerative colitis, according to a New York Times story.

In 2005, the EPA fined the company $16.5 million for concealing information about the harm caused by the chemical and its presence in the environment. The EPA issued a lifetime health advisory levels until this year.

Abraham encouraged people with wells that will be tested by the Navy to ask to split the samples so they can have them independently tested; he said they should also ask the Navy to pay for the independent testing.