Residents have until Aug. 31 to offer their two cents on the possible environmental impacts of the Navy’s plans to transition Expeditionary Electronic Attack Squadrons (VAQ) to Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. The aging EA-6B Prowlers in the squadrons will be replaced with the newer EA-18G Growlers, beginning this year and continuing into 2014.
The Navy extended the public comment period deadline for the draft Environmental Assessment in response to a request by Island County commissioners. A crowd of upset Coupeville residents attended a recent commissioner meeting to express concerns about increased jet noise. The problem was, many of the citizens were relying on a misunderstanding.
The expeditionary squadrons in question are land based, which means they don’t do carrier landing practices. As a result, the expeditionary squadrons, unlike the fleet VAQ squadrons, do not train at the Outlying Field near Coupeville. The environmental assessment for the carrier-based squadrons was completed years ago, which is why there are already Growlers in the sky.
People who live on North Whidbey, however, may notice a change in the future. The Navy’s assessment offers three alternative scenarios for the expeditionary transition. Depending on the alternative, the 12 Prowlers could be replaced by 21 or 26 Growlers. Yet the number of aircraft operations at Ault Field is expected to only increase by 2.7 or 3.1 percent. That translates to about 2,000 extra flights a year.
The Environmental Assessment concludes that the switch to Growlers will have no significant impact on noise for residents. In fact, slightly fewer people will be within the “noise contours” around the air strips.
Navy officials are strongly recommending that residents provide their comments on the environmental assessment so they can fully understand community concerns. Printed copies of the assessment are available at the Oak Harbor and Coupeville libraries. It’s available online at www.cnic.navy.mil. Comments may be emailed to Whdb_naswi_pao@navy.mil or may be mailed to: Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Public Works Department, Environmental Division, 1115 W. Lexington St., Oak Harbor, WA 98278