Navy releases final EIS on Growlers

The Navy released the final Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, Friday on EA-18 Growler operations at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

The voluminous document, however, offers little new information and doesn’t come to a final decision on force structure or the distribution of the aircraft training operations.

The final decision will be made by the Secretary of the Navy or his representative no earlier than 30 days after the public release of the final EIS.

The Navy isn’t accepting any additional public comment.

The release of the final EIS was delayed last fall in order to give the Navy time to analyze the impact of new technology on training requirements as well as a decrease in the number of pilots.

The results of the study and a “preferred alternative” were announced in June. It reduced the amount of training necessary by 30 percent and the number of new pilots, but it directs a large increase in field carrier landing practice to Outlying Field Coupeville, a small airstrip in rural Central Whidbey.

The final EIS affirms the decision.

The announcement of the preferred alternative wasn’t well received by Central Whidbey residents who are concerned about the amount of noise from the Growlers.

A group called Sound Defense Alliance is holding a community rally from 4-6 p.m., Oct. 3 at the Crockett Barn in Coupeville. The group wants the Navy to find an alternative site for the new planes.

“The latest proposal by the Department of Defense dramatically increases the number of Growler jets and flights – putting us all at risk,” the announcement states. “It’s time we stand up for our communities.”

Under the preferred alternative, the number of operations a year at OLF Coupeville would increase nearly fourfold, from 6,510 to a total of 24,100. An operation is a takeoff or landing, so each touch-and-go pass counts as two operations.

The number of operations at the Ault Field base would increase by 9,800.

The Navy points out that the Ault Field base supports many other operations from a variety of aircraft. Under the alternative, the the number of annual operations at Ault Field will be 88,000.

In a letter to U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, Navy officials defended the decision to site most of the field carrier training operations at OLF Coupeville. They pointed out that operations at Ault Field affect more people than operations at OLF Coupeville.

In addition, the training is superior at OLF Coupeville because it best replicates what it’s like to land on aircraft carrier.

“OLF Coupeville sits on a 200-foot ridge surrounded by flat terrain, similar to the aircraft carrier operating on the water,” the Navy said in a press release. “The low cultural lighting around Coupeville and the ability to completely darken the field also closely resembles at-sea conditions from the pilots’ perspective.”

For the preferred alternative, there would be about 630 additional personnel and an estimated 860 additional family members, according to a Navy spokesman. That would eventually be offset by the decommissioning of VQ-1.

Officials project that the ultimate base population will increase from 8,400 people to 8,600.