Central Whidbey confronts Navy jet noise, water testing

The outspoken anti-jet-noise group Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve is no longer the only show in town when it comes to registering concern about the Navy’s plans to bring more aircraft to Whidbey Island.

A new advocacy group is forming and the Town of Coupeville is taking steps to independently verify Navy findings.

More than 100 people crowded into the United Methodist Church in Coupeville Monday night to learn more about the 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.

The meeting was hosted by Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, also known as COER, but the leaders of the group acknowledged that some people concerned about these issues may not want to be associated with the group because of its aggressive tactics.

Ken Pickard, president of COER, gave a speech in which he said his father, if he were alive today, would have been a community leader who diplomatically 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.

COER leaders feel worn out and haven’t had wide support from the community, Pickard said, but they are not giving up either. They are hiring national experts to study the noise and will submit the information to the Navy. COER members also encouraged people to send comments to their elected representative, particularly U.S. senators, who’ve been largely silent on the issue.

Tuesday night, the Coupeville Town Council approved a plan to hire two consultants, for up to $14,900, to review the Navy’s draft EIS and provide analysis and comment.

“Within the range of the Navy’s proposed operational alternatives are possible outcomes that may have, in staff’s view, very significant, possibly detrimental, and long-term effects on the Town and surrounding communities,” Town Planner Owen Dennison wrote in a staff report.

Dennison said he reached out to a former colleague who has experience with this kind of study and she put him in touch with noise specialist. Both have agreed to work together and provide a report prior to the Navy’s Jan. 25 comment deadline.

Dennison said the noise consultants would be looking at the noise data and modeling in the draft EIS to verify that it is correct and determine whether or not it is the appropriate model for circumstances surrounding OLF Coupeville.

Town Council is planning a special meeting for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29 at the Island County Human Services Building to further discuss the areas of the EIS they want the general consultant to focus on.

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 — contrary to 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 Monday night, Greenbank resident Richard Abraham presented information about the chemical the Navy will be testing wells for. He spent a career running organizations and providing assistance to organizations responding to toxic pollution problems.

The Navy announced earlier this 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.

Yet 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 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.

The Town of Coupeville is doing its own independent testing of its water supply. The town’s main wells are near the Outlying Field.