WHIDBEY ISLAND — The Navy’s final environmental impact statement on EA-18 Growler operations at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island offers little new information and doesn’t include a final decision on the distribution of the aircraft training operations.
The voluminous document was released Friday.
The final decision will be made by the secretary of the Navy or his representative no earlier than 30 days after the public release of the report. The Navy isn’t accepting additional public comment.
The release of the final report was delayed last fall to give the Navy time to analyze the impact of new technology on training requirements as well as a decrease in the number of pilots. The results of the study and a “preferred alternative” were announced in June. It reduced the amount of training and the number of new pilots, but it directed a large increase in field carrier landing practice to Outlying Field Coupeville, a small airstrip in rural Central Whidbey.
The final environmental statement affirms the decision.
The announcement of the preferred alternative wasn’t well received by Central Whidbey residents who are concerned about the noise from the Growlers. The group wants the Navy to find an alternative site for the new planes.
“The latest proposal by the Department of Defense dramatically increases the number of Growler jets and flights — putting us all at risk,” the group announced. “It’s time we stand up for our communities.”
Under the preferred alternative, the number of operations a year at OLF Coupeville would increase nearly fourfold, to a total of 24,100. An operation is a takeoff or landing, so each touch-and-go pass counts as two operations.
Operations at the Ault Field base would increase by 9,800.
The Navy points out that the Ault Field base supports many other aircraft operations. Under the alternative, the number of annual operations at Ault Field will be 88,000.
In a letter to U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, Navy officials defended the decision to site most of the field carrier training operations at OLF Coupeville. They said that operations at Ault Field affect more people than operations at OLF Coupeville.
In addition, the training is superior at OLF Coupeville because it best replicates what it’s like to land on an aircraft carrier.
“OLF Coupeville sits on a 200-foot ridge surrounded by flat terrain, similar to the aircraft carrier operating on the water,” the Navy said in a news release. “The low cultural lighting around Coupeville and the ability to completely darken the field also closely resembles at-sea conditions from the pilots’ perspective.”
For the preferred alternative, there would be about 630 additional personnel and an estimated 860 family members, according to a Navy spokesman. That would eventually be offset by the decommissioning of VQ-1, a reconnaissance squadron.
Officials project that the ultimate base population will increase from 8,400 to 8,600.
This story originally appeared in the South Whidbey Record, a sibling paper of The Daily Herald.