By Laura Guido
COUPEVILLE — During a visit to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer called the conflict around jet noise a “top priority,” but said recently filed lawsuits prevented him from discussing possible solutions.
On Sept. 20, Spencer met for more than an hour with community leaders, including local mayors, congressional staff, state lawmakers, county commissioners, and representatives from chambers of commerce, Ebey’s Landing Historical Reserve, National Parks, area school districts and the Economic Development Council for Island County.
“This is front and center on the Navy’s radar,” he told reporters afterward. But recent lawsuits from the state attorney general and a class-action lawsuit by homeowners have “hamstrung” his ability to discuss plans to resolve the noise disputes, he said.
He said the Navy could be willing to do noise mitigation or implement other practices that had been used in places like Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia. In the mid 2000s, the Navy settled with thousands of homeowners in Virginia Beach who claimed the noise from the F/A-18 Hornets decreased their property values.
Homeowners near Outlying Field Coupeville have filed a similar class-action lawsuit over the Navy’s planned 400 percent increase in the number of aircraft carrier landings practiced there.
Spencer said he’s scheduled to meet with the state attorney general on Oct. 3 to discuss possible solutions. In early July, Washington state’s top lawyer announced a lawsuit in which he argues the Navy violated laws by not properly analyzing the impact the increased number of low-level training flights by the EA-18 Growler will have on human health, the environment and historic resources.
Spencer said he’s been in talks with the governor’s office and is looking to settle with the state.
“I will do anything so we don’t have to end up in a court,” Spencer said. He added he is sympathetic to residents who say the noise from aircraft carrier landing practices at the outlying field is negatively impacting their lives.
He expressed a willingness to do real-time noise monitoring, but said during the environmental impact statement process, the Navy stuck with its computer model because officials believe it “works perfectly.”
He said the same system is used by 14 major airports in North America and has been supported by governmental organizations. The divisive impact the jet noise was having on the community took him by surprise, Spencer said, but he had “great hope” that it could be resolved.
“I think we can actually get there,” he said.
This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sibling paper to the Herald.