Judge asked to cut number of Growler flights on Whidbey Island

The state Attorney General’s Office is asking a judge to require the Navy to cut number of flights.

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WHIDBEY ISLAND — The state Attorney General’s Office and a Whidbey Island anti-noise group are asking a federal judge to require the Navy to cut the number of training flights back to the level allowed prior to an environmental assessment process that authorized an additional 33 EA-18G Growlers at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

Earlier this year, the state Attorney General’s Office and Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, or COER, partially succeeded in their lawsuit against the Navy over the adequacy of the environmental assessment, which looked at what impact the noise from additional Growlers and increased practices would have on residents and the environment.

In August, a federal judge ruled against the Navy on four issues and instructed both sides to work out a remedy. Negotiations fell through, however, and now it falls on the court to decide the issue.

Both the state Attorney General’s Office and COER submitted briefs on the proposed remedy. Both argue that the Navy should be compelled to vacate the 2019 Record of Decision, which authorized the increase in Growlers, and prepare a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on the issues that weren’t adequately addressed.

If the judge agrees, that would mean a significant — although possibly temporary — reduction in Growler operations on Whidbey, especially at Outlying Field Coupeville where the hours of aircraft activity would drop to a quarter of the current amount of aircraft landing practice allowed. Currently, the Navy can conduct 360 hours per year of landing practice.

In his decision, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones agreed with the Attorney General’s Office that the Navy violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to quantify the impact of Growler noise on classroom learning and failing to take a hard look at species-specific impacts on birds.

In addition, the judge agreed with COER’s argument that the Navy erred in failing to give detailed consideration to basing the Growlers at El Centro, California and failing to disclose the basis for greenhouse gas emission calculations.

The two plaintiffs want the Navy to set aside the Record of Decision and go back to the drawing board on the flawed portions of the environmental study. After that, Navy leaders would then have adequate information to decide what would be the appropriate level of Growlers and flights on Whidbey.

The attorney general opined that the Navy top brass may make a different decision.

“A lawful environmental review of childhood learning impacts, species-specific bird impacts, greenhouse gas emissions, and an alternative training location could lead the Navy to, among other things, adopt a different alternative, reduce or shift flight operations, alter flight patterns or training schedules, or implement additional mitigation measures,” the brief states.

The Navy has until Nov. 22 to respond.

This story originally appeared in the South Whidbey Record, a sibling publication to The Herald.

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