Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard and Island County Commissioner Helen Price-Johnson clearly underestimated the number of people who feel strongly about jet noise at Outlying Field Coupeville.
Conard and Price Johnson held a public meeting Wednesday evening at Coupeville Recreation Hall. Fire capacity in the building is 150 people.
That capacity was reached fairly quickly.
Many of those unable to get inside — approximately 60 people — huddled near the open windows and doors trying to hear what was being discussed.
What they may have heard coming from the hall is frustration, anger and concern.
The intent of the meeting was to come up with mitigating options, not to debate the field’s mission and presence on Central Whidbey, said Conard and Price Johnson.
Organizers did an admirable job of staying on task despite the eagerness of many attendees to call for the air field’s closure.
The overflow attendance is a revelation — the issue of jet noise in Central Whidbey is a concern much greater than a “few disgruntled people” who live near OLF Coupeville.
Even vocal Navy-advocate and Whidbey Island Naval Air Station supporter Joe Kunzler said the highly-charged gathering was an eye-opener for him.
Kunzler is correct in his summation that the representation at the meeting was one-sided. It would indeed be constructive for Navy officials to engage in the discussion about OLF Coupeville and its impacts.
Conard said base leaders weren’t asked to participate in Wednesday’s meeting, that the intention was to hear from Central Whidbey residents and come up with list of community-supported solutions, not create a back-and-forth dialogue.
While Navy officials weren’t invited to this meeting, there should be a second meeting at a larger venue. The Navy should be invited and represented.
Clearly the anti-noise momentum is building on Central Whidbey rather than receding. Ignoring the issue won’t make it go away. Conard and Price-Johnson are unclear about what will happen next, but they plan to share findings from Wednesday’s meeting with Navy and Congressional representatives.
This is a debate where both sides are steadfast that there’s no compromise. That makes reaching a compromise all the more critical.