By Jessie Stensland / South Whidbey Record
The partial federal government shutdown is delaying the secretary of the Navy’s final decision regarding EA-18G Growler aircraft at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
Under law, the Navy is supposed to wait to issue a record of decision until after receiving comments from the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, or ACHP, about the impact of increased Growler flights on historic properties.
ACHP employees, however, are furloughed because of the partial shutdown. The agency’s timeline for providing comments has stopped and will resume when it reopens, according to Ted Brown, a public affairs officer at U.S. Fleet Forces Command.
The ACHP had 45 days to provide comment to the Navy, which would have put the deadline at Jan. 14 prior to the shutdown.
“The Navy is hoping for resumption of ACHP business as soon as possible and is evaluating impacts of the shutdown on the way forward for the planned increase in Growlers at NAS Whidbey Island,” Brown said in an email.
Amanda Munger, communications director for U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, said the office reached out to Navy officials and were told that it was “unchartered territory” and they are still working on the plan for moving forward.
In the Environmental Impact Statement process, the Navy identified a “preferred alternative” for bringing 36 more Growlers to the base that would increase the amount of practice at the Outlying Field Coupeville by nearly four times. While the Navy says the plans are in the best interest of pilot safety and training, many residents of Central Whidbey and beyond — as well as officials in the federal, state and local government — have protested the plan, largely because of the noise of the aircraft.
The Navy found that the plans would have an impact on historic properties of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, which borders OLF Coupeville. Under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, the Navy entered into negotiations with consulting parties to come up with appropriate mitigation.
The Navy ended up terminating negotiations at the end of November after an agreement couldn’t be reached. Capt. Matthew Arny, base commanding officer, explained in emails to consulting parties that a delay in the process had the potential to exacerbate the risk of operational impacts.
Since negotiations were terminated, it was then up to the ACHP, an independent federal agency, to submit comments to the secretary of the Navy on the issue before a final decision could be made. The ACHP gathered public comments and held a public meeting Coupeville that was attended by about 340 people.
This story originally appeared in the South Whidbey Record, a sibling paper of The Daily Herald.