Editorial: Hopefully door to crucial agreement isn’t entirely closed

Navy officials had the daunting task of negotiating with a string of agencies, groups and elected officials in determining how best to mitigate the effect more practice at Outlying Field Coupeville by EA-18G Growler aircraft will have on the historic area of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

It didn’t work out. The Navy abruptly announced Friday that it was terminating consultation with the interested parties after determining that negotiators were at an impasse.

People on both sides are pointing fingers about who is to blame.

Under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, the Navy was obliged to consult with interested parties about possible mitigation after it notified the public that the proposed increase in Growler flights would have an impact on the historic area.

The negotiations brought together people and groups who agreed that the Navy’s plans will have a significant impact on the historic area of Central Whidbey. Among them were a congressman, the governor, the state preservation officer, local elected officials, tribal leaders and others.

Their message was about the importance of the national treasure called Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

The Navy went from offering very little in the way of mitigation to at least $1 million to restore the Coupeville Wharf.

The negotiations were not supposed to be a referendum on increased Growler flights to Central Whidbey. That decision is being made in a different and much more in-depth process that is nearing an end. The sole purpose under Section 106 was to determine how the Navy can make up for the detrimental effect aircraft noise will have on the historic area.

Putting a price tag on it is a subjective task.

The Navy claims that the negotiating partners were unable to separate the very narrow issue at hand from the larger community concerns about increased jet noise, which is unfortunate.

Hopefully, the latest action by the Navy won’t shut down communication altogether and an agreement can still be reached to help preserve the vital area, whatever the final decision is on the Growler flights.

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