Secretary of Navy: Jet noise issue ‘top priority’

During a visit to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer called the conflict around jet noise impacts a “top priority,” but said he couldn’t discuss ideas for solutions because of recent lawsuits.

Last Friday, Spencer met with a group of community leaders, including mayors from surrounding cities, congressional staff, state lawmakers and county commissioners, and representatives from chambers of commerce, Ebey’s Landing Historical Reserve, National Parks, school districts and the Economic Development Council for Island County.

“This is front and center on the Navy’s radar,” he told reporters after the meeting.

He met with the groups for a little over an hour, but said that recent lawsuits from the state attorney general and a class-action lawsuit has “hamstrung” his ability to discuss plans to resolve noise disputes.

He said the Navy could be willing to do noise mitigation or implement other practices that had been used in places like Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia. In the mid 2000s, the Navy settled with thousands of homeowners in Virginia Beach who claimed the noise from the F/A-18 Hornets dropped the values of their properties.

Homeowners near Outlying Field Coupeville have filed a similar class-action lawsuit over the Navy’s planned 400 percent increase in aircraft carrier landing practice there.

Spencer said he’s scheduled to meet with the state attorney general on Oct. 3 to discuss possible solutions. In early July, Washington state’s top lawyer announced a lawsuit in which he argues the Navy violated laws by not properly analyzing the impact the increased Growler training will have on human health, the environment and historic resources.

Spencer said he’s been in talks with the governor’s office and is looking to settle with the state.

“I will do anything so we don’t have to end up in a court,” Spencer said. He added he is sympathetic to residents who say the noise from aircraft carrier landing practices at the outlying field is negatively impacting their lives.

He expressed a willingness to do real-time noise monitoring, but said during the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process, the Navy stuck with its computer model because officials believe it “works perfectly.”

He said the same system is used by 14 major airports in North America and has been supported by governmental organizations. The divisive impact the jet noise was having on the community took him by surprise, Spencer said, but he had “great hope” that it could be resolved.

“I think we can actually get there,” he said.

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