Defense bill includes money for NAS Whidbey

A provision in the act extends real-time noise monitoring and requires the data to be made public.

The annual defense spending bill that’s in the crosshairs of a veto standoff has important provisions for Whidbey Island, according to U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen.

This year’s bipartisan National Defense Act is a series of laws that specifies the budget and expenditures of the Department of Defense. This year it authorizes a 3 percent salary increase for members of the military, Larsen pointed out.

President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the bipartisan act because it doesn’t include a provision stripping social media companies of legal protections from lawsuits. It appears Congress has enough votes to override the veto.

“If the president does veto it, he’s not supporting the women and men in uniform,” Larsen said.

A provision in the act introduced by Larsen and Sen. Maria Cantwell extends real-time noise monitoring at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and requires the data to be made public.

Last year, the Navy added 36 EA-18G Growlers to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and increased aircraft landing practice at Outlying Field Coupeville fourfold.

The environmental study completed prior to the increase in Growlers used computer models instead of actual sound level measurements of the aircraft in action.

Larsen said people in the Whidbey Island community asked for real-world measurements of Growler noise. The military uses the same model for the entire country, he said, and it may not be applicable to the Pacific Northwest.

Larsen and Cantwell added a noise monitoring provision to last year’s bill, but the work was delayed by the pandemic and needed to be extended another year, he said.

The noise will be measured each quarter with the first monitoring period beginning soon, he said.

The provision requires a plan to conduct monitoring above or adjacent to nearby public lands, including Olympic National Park, Olympic National Forest and Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, according to Larsen’s office.

The act also includes $1.4 billion for environmental cleanup for water sources near military bases contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances knowns as PFAS.

NAS Whidbey responded early on to concerns about contamination from the chemical that appears in a type of firefighting foam used to put out aircraft fires. Testing revealed that the amount of the chemicals in groundwater at sites near OLF Coupeville and the Aunt Field Base exceeded the EPA advisory level.

In addition, the act includes $50 million in Impact Aid for school districts, an issue that Larsen has spearheaded for many years.

The funding is for districts in areas with military bases and makes up for property taxes they aren’t able to collect.

Oak Harbor Public Schools is among those that receive aid.

President Trump has until Dec. 23 to decide whether to issue his first veto.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.