An environmental group is suing the Navy in federal court for refusing to adequately fulfill Freedom of Information Act requests regarding EA-18G Growlers from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island flying over the Olympic National Park, which is considered one of the quietest places in the country, according to the lawsuit.
The National Parks Conservation Association filed the complaint in U.S. District Court in Seattle May 2 for declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming the Navy improperly withheld documents and conducted an inadequate search.
The organization is asking the court to order the Navy to promptly conduct a new search and furnish it with all responsive documents not legally exempted. Also, the organization wants the Navy to pay costs and attorneys’ fees related to the three-year search for documents.
The Navy has been conducting an analysis of environmental impacts of jet training exercises over the Olympic Peninsula, as required under the National Environmental Policy Act. The Navy recently released a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, opening a public comment period for increased operations over the peninsula through 2025.
The National Parks Conservation Association’s concern is about the effect the noise from the Growlers will have on wildlife and visitors in the Olympics.
In order to understand the environmental impacts, the organization filed a Freedom of Information Act request in 2016 for any and all documents about impacts, analyses and communications between agencies about exercises in the Olympic Peninsula.
The group sent near-identical requests to other agencies and received thousands of documents in response, but the Navy produced only 158 pages. The National Parks Conservation Association went through two administrative appeals and two remands to the Navy to fully respond — and submitted another request — but it “still has not received the vast majority of the records in the Navy’s possession,” according to the lawsuit.
“Unfortunately, the Navy has forced us to go to court due to their failure to provide the documentation necessary for NPCA and the public to make informed comments on the impacts of their latest proposal,” Rob Smith, Northwest regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, said in a press release. “We recognize the Navy’s training needs, but also value the importance of preserving natural sights and sounds for visitors and wildlife at one of the quietest places in America, the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park.”
The latest proposal from the Navy could increase the number of flights over the Olympics to 5,000 per year, according to the group.
A Navy spokesperson said the Navy could not comment on pending litigation.
The National Parks Conservation Association is represented by the Earthrise Law Center at the Lewis & Clark Law School, along with Smith & Lowney PLLC.