Sound Off: Problems created by Navy should also be part of conversation

Oak Harbor’s mayor, Bob Severns, wrote in a recent Sound Off in the Whidbey News-Times that he has been seeing “articles from special interest groups trying to encourage the community to think negatively about Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.”

The mayor is disturbed by that and wants folks to focus instead on the good things the Navy brings to the island and to “not spend much time listening to small interest groups trying to convince you that NASWI is responsible for a large amount of noise pollution in our area.”

Putting condescending labels on highly engaged, well-intended citizen groups and ignoring and whitewashing reality does not benefit anyone, and it cannot benefit Mr. Severns’ credibility as a political leader sworn to support the economic vitality of Oak Harbor in ways that benefit rather than diminish the health and well-being of its citizens.

There is nothing wrong with profiling benefits and goods the Navy brings to the island, but there is something wrong when it is coupled with denigration, denialism and rationalization. Instead of telling folks to “not listen,” it might be far wiser for the mayor to listen — that is to the concerns of his constituents. And then try to work towards real and pragmatic solutions.

For example, while the mayor downplayed Growler noise as a problem, a recent survey by Coupeville’s town council revealed Growler noise as the community’s greatest concern for the future. And the world’s medical community increasingly documents serious health effects from anthropogenic noise.

And now we find that our drinking water, contaminated by the Navy’s aqueous fire-fighting foam, AFFF, is thousands of times more of a threat to our community health than had been previously believed. The new safety threshold about to be set will likely be so low that it will be below the Navy’s current testing protocol.

The Navy cannot help the fact that its Growlers are so loud, nor when spraying AFFF around did it realize or intend to poison our drinking water with a toxic forever chemical. But that does not mean that noise, air and water pollution are not serious issues—huge problems we all want to see solved. The mayor does himself and the community a disservice by trying to sweep those issues under the carpet while saying, “Look at how pretty the carpet is.”

Bob Wilbur is president of Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, a group that protests military jet noise.