Alliance against Growler expansion ‘not going away’

“Persistently advocating against all odds” is the theme of a campaign by the Sound Defense Alliance and its supporters opposed to increased Growler activity in Central Whidbey.

The group held an “action fair and update” last Thursday at Coupeville High School.

Sound Defense Alliance is a coalition of individuals and other activist groups that oppose the Navy’s plans to expand the number of EA-18G Growlers at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and increase the number of training flights at Outlying Field Coupeville by almost 370 percent.

The final decision, to be made by the Secretary of the Navy or his designee, is expected to be released within a couple of weeks.

Approximately 165 people attended Thursday night’s event, which included information about the expected impacts of the expansion on Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, on the Town of Coupeville and the potential establishment of Accident Potential Zones around the outlying field.

Diana Eelkema, of Coupeville, said she came because she lives in the flight zone.

“The noise is unbearable,” she said. “I think (the increase is) going to affect our property values and our health.”

Booths around the room provided materials and information to allow attendees to write letters and postcards to elected officials and letters to the editor.

One letter stood out among the crowd. Addressed to U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, a large piece of butcher paper was hung on the wall and in large letters it both thanked him for his effort on the issue and asked for more.

“He really moved on this issue,” said Valerie Reuther, one of the event organizers. “… But it’s not enough.”

Larsen recently wrote a letter to Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer with his concerns over the Growler plans. He recommended a reduction from its proposed increase at OLF Coupeville and distributing more of the field carrier landing practice operations at Ault Field.

Navy officials have said the outlying field offers the most realistic training conditions for landing on an aircraft carrier. Officials have also said other types of operations will increase at Ault Field and the majority of flights will still occur on North Whidbey.

Reuther said any increase will create too much hardship on the rural area.

“This is one of the last wild places on the planet and the Navy’s trying to turn it into some place that’s uninhabitable for wildlife and people.”

At last week’s event, Reuther and others spoke about potential impacts, but they all had a similar message. Reuther urged those present to continue to speak out, to gather and to write.

“We’re not going away,” she said.

“We’re here to fight for our homes, our businesses and this region.”

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