The Navy asked a federal judge to deny a citizen group’s demand that aircraft operations be halted at Outlying Field Coupeville.
The Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, or COER, sued the Navy in 2013 claiming that the noise associated with the EA-18G Growler pilot training is damaging the health of those living under the OLF flight path.
In response, Navy attorneys said in recent court documents that the request for “injunctive relief” should be denied because COER’s “injuries … are not sufficient to rise to the level of irreparable harm” and that it would be detrimental to both Navy operations and national security.
Capt. Mike Nortier, commanding officer for Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, is among a handful of Navy brass and experts who responded in written legal declarations in support of continued training at OLF.
Performing touch-and-go operations at NAS Whidbey’s Ault Field instead of OLF produces a back up of other types of flight operations because the Field Carrier Landing Practice, or FCLPs, are a “closed pattern” that can’t be interrupted, Nortier said.
In addition, moving the operations to the more dense Oak Harbor area would affect more people.
“The population surrounding Ault Field is greater than that surrounding OLF Coupeville, which means noise impacts from aircraft operations at Ault Field impact a greater number of people than at Coupeville,” Nortier said.
OLF Coupeville is crucial to pilot training because it provides “a realistic environment in which to practice FCLPs,” according to a declaration of Capt. Benjamin Hewlett, commander of NAS Whidbey’s Carrier Air Wing I.
“Night carrier operations are the highest risk operations in aviation, but night combat operations are critical to mission success because of the diminished capability of the enemy,” Hewlett said.
If pilots are not able to practice FCLPs in “an environment as ideal as OLF Coupeville” before going aboard a carrier it “will degrade U.S. and coalition combat effectiveness while creating unacceptable risks for the aviators and crew members.”
Hewlett said that the presence of the Growler, an electronic attack aircraft, in recent operations against ISIS are so critical that missions are frequently aborted if the there is not aircraft or pilot availability.
The Navy also stated in court documents that it is not in violation with the National Environmental Protection Act, as COER alleges, and that the original Environmental Assessment they conducted in 2005 was in keeping with both Department of Defense and Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
In addition to making a case for continued use of OLF for touch-and-go training, the Navy said that it believes the scientific data presented by COER is “flawed” and doesn’t reveal any information that wasn’t already presented by the Navy.
COER’s claim that the Growler’s predecessor, the EA-6B Prowler, is quieter is unsubstantiated, according to the declaration of Joseph Czech, senior lead engineer with Wyle Laboratories, which conducts Navy noise studies.
“The sound level of the EA-18G has an increased low-frequency content, which accounts for complaints of greater vibrations from the EA-18G as compared to the EA-6B, but the overall single-event sound level of the EA-18G is lower in most flight profiles,” Czech said.
The Navy is ignoring the harm jet noise causes residents and is seeking to have their motion denied “primarily on the basis of technical procedural issues,” COER said in a news release this week.
“The Navy’s response should serve as a warning to other communities being targeted for ‘warfare training’ across the country,” said COER member Ken Pickard in the news release. “The Navy is willing to harm the very people and environment it is sworn to protect — and do so in the name of ‘national security.’”
COER says the scientific data presented by Navy should not be considered because is not based on “real” sound, according to COER spokeperson Cate Andrews.
The Navy does not record actual noise levels specific to each noise study, but uses the Department of Defense’s NOISEMAP modeling software that draws on a database of aircraft sound and then factors in criteria specific to the area. These criteria can include runway coordinates, weather data, previous flight tracks, altitude and aircraft specs.
A day-night average sound is reached to determine the affect over a 24-hour period, according to court documents.
This day-night average has little relevance to a nearby resident who is experiencing more than 100 decibels several times per hour during touch-and-gos, said Cate Andrews, COER spokesperson.
“We’re talking about real sound,” Andrews said. “It’s a critical difference. The modeling has no relevance.”
The Navy maintains that noise modeling provides better data than simply recording the sound.
“Noise modeling, rather than noise measurements taken with monitors, is used to assess noise exposure, because this is the most accurate and comprehensive method of estimating airfield noise exposure,” said Ted Brown, U.S. Fleet Forces Command spokesman.
The Navy started an expanded Environmental Impact Statement on the Growlers in 2013 and expects it to be complete in 2017.