Camano Islanders split over Navy jet noise

CAMANO ISLAND — People on north Camano Island often hear the jets from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

Many dislike the sound of practice flights late at night. Some tolerate the noise throughout the day.

Randy Heagle, a Stanwood real estate agent who lives on the island, hears a lot of jet noise, especially in the evening when he is watching TV.

“I also wake up to the sound of eagles in the trees outside my window,” Heagle said. “I love the noise of our symbol of America. But I feel the same way when I hear the jets. Not being able to hear the TV for a few minutes is a small price to pay in a free country. Maybe this sounds corny, but, especially with the way the economy is, I say we keep the boys here and keep them safe. God bless ‘em.”

A group of people in the Coupeville area are not on the same page as Heagle.

Citizens of the Ebey’s Reserve for Healthy, Safe and Peaceful Environment filed suit against the U.S. Navy in July, citing among concerns that jet noise monitored outdoors often exceeds 134 decibels, which is louder than the level that the National Institutes of Health reports can cause permanent hearing loss.

The Navy announced last week that it intends to evaluate the environmental effects of the new EA-18G Growler, a radar-jamming jet that has replaced the EA-6B Prowlers that have called Whidbey Naval Air Station home since the 1970s.

When the first of the new jets were rolled out in 2008, Navy officials said the Growlers would be quieter than the Prowlers. No environmental impact statement was done.

David Mann, a Seattle lawyer representing the Coupeville group, said his clients are happy that the Navy plans to study the environmental and health impacts of its flight operations on neighbors and on the Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve, an area of central Whidbey Island overseen by the National Park Service.

Camano Island homeowner Theresa Metzger said the jets fly low over her house and she doesn’t see much difference between the noise of the Prowlers and the noise generated by the Growlers.

“We don’t let it bother us at all,” Metzger said. “But it is nice that the Navy is being responsive to the complaints.”

Jack Archibald, who lives on south Camano Island, said the Navy jets aren’t as much of an issue there.

“We get the freedom without the sound,” Archibald said. “I know a lot of people on the north end, however, who are troubled by the noise. I was hiking at Deception Pass State Park recently and I could hardly hear myself think.”

The Growler is based on Boeing’s two-seat, twin-engine F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter jet, with electronic systems built by Northrop-Grumman for the aircraft’s airborne electronic attack missions. The Growler can fly from the deck of an aircraft carrier or from airfields and is used to jam enemy radar and radio communications in the air and on the ground.

The Navy’s environmental impact statement will look at the proposed introduction of two more land-based electronic attack squadrons at the air station on Whidbey Island, as well as the addition of more fleet replacement squadron jets, Navy officials said.

The Navy plans first to conduct community meetings to find out what issues should be addressed in the environmental impact statement.

Three open house-style informational meetings are scheduled: Dec. 3 at Coupeville High School, Dec. 4 at Oak Harbor High School and Dec. 5 at Anacortes Middle School. All are from 4 to 8 p.m.

To be included on the Navy’s mailing list or to receive a compact disc copy of the draft environmental impact statement once it is prepared, submit an email request to WhidbeyEIS@navy.mil or a written request to EA-18G EIS Project Manager (Code EV21/SS); Naval Facilities Engineering Command Atlantic, 6506 Hampton Blvd., Norfolk, VA 23508.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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