By Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times
An anti-noise group requested a preliminary injunction in federal court Thursday, asking that a judge order the Navy to temporarily halt its expansion of EA-18G Growler flights at the Outlying Field Coupeville.
Both Citizens of the Ebey’s Reserve and the state Attorney General’s Office are suing the Navy over an increase in training flights at the small field in Central Whidbey, which Growler pilots use to practice simulated landings on aircraft carriers. Naval Air Station Whidbey Island is in the process of increasing training flights by 400 percent at the field.
The citizen’s group is alone, however, in requesting the preliminary injunction, which would return the level of flights to pre-2019 numbers and would remain in place until a final decision is made in the case.
The request is on the March 6 motion calendar for U.S. District Court in Seattle.
In the motion, the citizen’s group argues that it is likely to prevail in the lawsuit, but that the decision is at least six months away. In the meantime, increased flights are causing “serious and irreparable harm.”
The group suggested the judge might want to visit the practice site.
“It is difficult to describe in words the extreme noise created by Growler jets flying just a few hundred feet above the ground,” the motion states.
A spokesperson for NAS Whidbey said it would be inappropriate to comment on pending litigation.
In comments on behalf of the Navy League, Steve Bristow wrote that a preliminary injunction would negatively affect training that is vital to aircrew safety and risk management for aircraft carrier operations.
“By extension, this will also impact the superlative protection the Growler provides to other aircraft and ground forces,” he wrote.
The citizen group’s motion includes declarations from Central Whidbey residents who describe the impact the noise from Growlers has had on their lives.
Dr. Bruce Porter and his wife said the noise makes it impossible to talk in person or on the phone, watch TV or conduct most normal activities of life. The couple said they don’t think they can have their 18-month-old grandson visit because the noise could damage his hearing.
“They must schedule their lives around the operational schedule published by the Navy for OLF (Coupeville),” the motion states, “but the Navy often fails to adhere to that schedule, changing it at the last minute with little or no notice.”
Other declarations include one from a woman whose family has lived on the island for four generations and who wears ear protection inside her house; another from a woman who was pregnant and would hide in a closet when the Growlers were flying; and a couple who close themselves in a walk-in closet to make calls when the jets fly.
The motion states that the Navy has been able to halt or decrease training in the past without any known impact to readiness, and that there are alternative sites for practice.
The citizen’s group argues that the Navy will lose the lawsuit and be forced to redo the Environmental Impact Statement because of serious flaws in how it measured Growler noise, problems within the metrics used in analyzing and modeling noise, a failure to assess noise with the aircrafts’ new enhanced engines and a failure to appropriately consult with other agencies.
The motion discussed health problems caused by noise, as well as economic and social impacts.
“Central Whidbey is a beautiful and, until recently, largely quiet and peaceful area that should be a place to build pleasant, intergenerational memories,” the motion states.
“The parents and grandparents, and their young children and grandchildren, will never get this time back. And the stress-induced health impacts are likely shortening the time left to them.”
The citizen’s group hired an acoustical engineer who measured sound levels at homes and public places near OLF Coupeville when Growlers were flying. Her results showed that the Navy’s computer modeling significantly underestimated the noise and that noise reaches levels that can cause permanent hearing loss, the motion claims.
Bristow argued that the group’s motion contains inaccuracies. He wrote that contrary to their assertion, Growlers are not louder than other aircraft that have been based on Whidbey in the past.
Additionally, he wrote that the Navy’s environmental impact statement process was more than adequate. “Due to local and regional sensibilities,” he wrote,” the Navy possibly expends more effort and expense here than any other EIS in the nation.”
This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sibling paper of The Daily Herald.