Group requests longer comment period for draft EIS

Activist organizations from Whidbey and Puget Sound are pushing the Navy for an extension of the comment period deadline regarding the draft Environmental Impact Statement on the increase in the number of EA-6B Growlers at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

Lawyers for Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, or COER, requested a 90-day extension for the deadline of the public comment period due to the lengthy and technical nature of the document, according to a press release from COER.

With appendices, the draft Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, is over 1,400 pages and the current deadline for public comments is Jan. 25, 2017.

Jacob Brooks of the Seattle-based environmental law firm Bricklin and Newman, said in a letter to Naval Facilities Engineering Command Atlantic dated Dec. 19, that “the Draft Environmental Impact Statement contains lengthy and highly technical information that requires careful study, research, and analysis to properly comment on environmental impacts that could result from the Navy’s imposed action.”

The letter said the organizations have limited resources to hire experts capable of analyzing the Navy’s complex computer-based noise modeling to see how it would actually impact the four alternatives proposed by the draft EIS.

In addition, COER gave two other reasons for justifying the extension. The first is that the comment period is during the holiday season and it would impact the public’s ability to devote the necessary time to fully review the draft EIS.

The second is that COER believes the period should be extended based on the ongoing investigation of contamination of public and private drinking wells near Navy facilities on Whidbey Island.

Ted Brown, the public affairs officer for U.S. Fleet Forces Command, said officials did consider the holiday period and built in a 30-day extension on top of the 45-day statute required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

“We knew this was going to be of great public interest and wanted to give the public adequate time to participate in the comment period,” Brown said.

The draft EIS was released Nov. 9 and was made available online to the public, as well as print copies being available in 22 public libraries.

Navy officials along with other health and environmental agencies held a series of five public information meetings to answer questions and take comments earlier this month. These were held at Port Townsend, Oak Harbor, Lopez Island, Anacortes, and Coupeville.

Brown said more than 340 comments were received in person at these meetings. He didn’t yet know how many were received online.

Brown said the request for extension is currently being evaluated and, if granted, a press release will be issued after the first of the year.

For more information on the draft EIS, go to www.whidbeyeis.com

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