By Rear Adm. Christopher “Scotty” Gray
Recent allegations challenging the Navy’s operation of the Growler EA-18G aircraft have created a great deal of public interest in the Navy’s operations in the Pacific Northwest, and I would like to discuss a few key facts regarding the Navy’s mission and environmental stewardship on Whidbey Island in particular.
First and foremost, EA-18G Growler aircraft, and the aircrews who fly them, are a crucial component of our national defense. Navy Growlers provide Airborne Electronic Attack capabilities for all of our armed forces, and without the Growler’s ability to suppress enemy uses of electromagnetic energy, American troops in the air, at sea and on the ground are at risk. But as important as this mission is, we also understand that our operations can impact the environment and the local community. For this reason, the Navy spent six years studying the potential environmental impacts of the decision to add EA-Growler aircraft at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
The Navy consulted with federal experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service under the Endangered Species Act to ensure that the best available science was used to evaluate impacts to natural resources. The Navy also conducted an extensive review of the potential health effects from aircraft noise. Additionally, the Navy went to extensive lengths to consider the impact of Growler operations on Whidbey Island’s historic properties and landscapes. The Environmental Impact Statement that resulted from the Navy’s studies is comprehensive and available to the public at www.whidbeyeis.com
The Navy takes its obligations to the environment seriously and invests extensively in stewardship. Through a Department of Defense funding program, the Navy has been able to protect over 1,200 acres on Whidbey Island. This helps to maintain the Navy’s ability to fly here, but also preserves Whidbey Island’s natural character. The Navy invested $13.8 million in direct payments to landowners willing to help conserve our community’s rural and welcoming setting.
Our stewardship extends to the sea as well. The Navy is one of the world’s leading organizations in the study of marine mammals. From 2004 through 2013, the Navy has funded over $240 million specifically for marine mammal research. In 2014, the Navy allocated $29.6 million for this purpose, accounting for 22 percent of all United States Federal funding for marine mammal research and conservation.
We care a great deal about reducing our impact to our neighbors as much as possible. This is why the Navy regularly publishes our operations schedule and why our leadership meets with the county and the school district to discuss upcoming events and come up with solutions that avoid disruption as much as possible.
None of us joined the Navy to disturb our neighbors; we joined to protect them. Just like other residents of Whidbey Island, our kids are in the same schools and we enjoy the same hikes, parks and community traditions. We are part of this community, and we tread carefully when making decisions that may impact our shared environment.
• Navy Rear Adm. Christopher “Scotty” Gray is commander for the Navy Region Northwest.