By Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen is paying attention to concerns Central Whidbey residents have about a proposed increase in Navy EA-18G Growler aircraft practice at a rural runway.
Larsen, a Democrat representing the second congressional district, said in a recent interview that Navy brass “just don’t get” how serious the issue is for the community.
Larsen said he has shared his concerns with Navy officials.
“I’ve been talking to the people at the highest level of the military,” he said, “and I hope they’ve been listening.”
Larsen has also tried to tackle the issue from a different angle. He was successful in getting $2 million into the recently passed $675-billion budget for the U.S. Defense Department to study noise mitigation efforts for Growlers.
Specifically, Larsen explained, the money is to research chevrons, which are mounted on the engine nozzle of aircraft to reduce the turbulence that creates noise.
The problem is that they bend under stress on Growlers, but engineers believe the problem can be overcome, he said.
“There is a solution that conforms to the laws of physics,” Larsen said.
For years, many people in the Central Whidbey community have been very vocal in their opposition to the Growler aircraft carrier landing practice at Outlying Field Coupeville because of the noise.
A lawsuit was filed. A few different groups have formed. Hundreds of people attended meetings in opposition to Growler noise.
By comparison, few people around Naval Air Station Whidbey Island’s Ault Field Base on North Whidbey — the other option for Growler practice — have voiced concerns about Growler noise.
Nevertheless, the Navy’s final Environmental Impact Statement on the planned increase of Growlers at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island outlines a “preferred alternative” under which practice increases by 370 percent and most of it will occur at OLF Coupeville.
Navy officials explained that OLF Coupeville provides the pilots with the most realistic training for landing on aircraft carriers, which is considered one of the most dangerous maneuvers a pilot has to do.
Officials also pointed out that a great deal of traffic from other aircraft occurs at the Ault Field Base and that more people live on North Whidbey and are affected by noise from the base.
The Secretary of the Navy may make a final decision on the alternative no later than 30 days after the release of the final EIS, which occurred Sept. 28.
Larsen sent a letter to the Secretary of the Navy earlier this year with a list of questions related to the increase in Growlers and the preferred alternative. He received a response at the end of July, but he said all his questions weren’t answered adequately. He said he’s in the process of developing questions to send back to the Navy.
This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sibling paper of The Daily Herald.