We share state Rep. Rick Larsen’s commitment to the future of our country and our ability to defend our shores and our economic future within those shores, and like him, we support Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.
We differ, however, in believing there are meaningful ways to mitigate the impacts of Outlying Field on adjacent residents. The noise impacts and significant safety risks can only be realistically solved by finding a new 21st century location for OLF. Such incompatibility is why the naval base in Norfolk recently sought out an appropriate OLF in a relatively undeveloped area in distant Washington County, N.C. Just so, an OLF in an unpopulated area of Washington state should not only be feasible, but would allow NAS Whidbey to function under a far-improved public profile. And, if a new OLF was to be constructed, how many construction jobs for Washington would that involve?
OLF Coupeville was built for a different time and purpose and allowed to morph over the seven decades since without addressing the need for restricting development of the now populous neighborhoods of Crockett Lake, Admiral Cove, and the east Coupeville shoreline, all with significant waterfowl populations that greatly increase accident risks.
The incompatibility of the OLF and adjacent development should have been addressed long ago. Unfortunately, however, that inattentiveness continues even today, the most recent examples being new homes and the transit terminal, all permitted directly within what should be accident protection zones (APZs) at both ends of the OLF.
Of particular note, Cmdr. Charles McWhorter, Atlantic Fleet Public Affairs Office, in a 2003 document concerning the proposed OLF in North Carolina wrote, “The Accident Potential Zones surrounding the proposed OLF fall entirely within the 60 DNL noise contour – land the Navy intends to acquire via fee simple purchase. Consequently, no area residents will live in an APZ.”
We disagree with Rep. Larsen that these incompatibility problems can be solved by the base improving its communications with the community or by holding quarterly community leader meetings to air issues. Nor does publishing touch-and-go practice hours help, unless a resident happens to have a second island home they can switch to.
Rep. Larsen has written that “the base [is] committed to being more proactive about reaching out to local elected officials when issues first arise.” If proactive words, meetings, and airings had a chance of solving the problem, the problem would have been solved years ago.
Let’s be realistic, what, for example, might the Navy’s image and future on Whidbey be if an accident (perhaps a duck ingestion) were to happen over Admirals Cove, and how might such a horrible scenario ultimately affect the base and the county, not to mention the attendant costs for possible negligence in allowing unchecked development in the undesignated APZs?
We remind Rep. Larsen of his responsibility to all his constituents, and suggest the win-win for all of us would be for him to start to grease the tracks for moving the OLF instead of stubbornly trying to keep the dying dinosaur breathing.
Ken Pickard President,
Citizens Of The Ebey’s Reserve For a Healthy, Safe and Peaceful Environment