By Kimberly Cauvel / Skagit Valley Herald
In the latest step toward bringing 36 additional EA-18G Growler jets to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, the Secretary of the Navy recently committed nearly $1 million for the preservation of nearby historic sites.
“I am committed to ensuring that the Navy remains a good neighbor with the local communities surrounding our installations while at the same time meeting urgent national defense priorities,” Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer said in a March 8 letter to the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.
The letter includes the Navy’s responses to several comments from the advisory council regarding impacts to and mitigation of historic properties near NAS Whidbey, which has operations near the communities of Oak Harbor and Coupeville.
While the Navy believes the addition of Growlers and the increase in field carrier landing practice flights will not have direct impacts on properties in the Central Whidbey Island Historic District, including Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, it agreed the increase in operations could impact the perception of the properties, according to the letter.
The Navy declined to monitor the historic properties based on its position that the modeling used to show how jet noise from increased practice flights may impact the region was sufficient. It also stated its plans to use technology to reduce jet noise are also sufficient.
The Navy declined to continue discussing additional mitigation measures but stated it is interested in partnering with community organizations to promote long-term preservation of the landscape and its historical attributes.
To mitigate the indirect impacts at nearby historic properties, the Navy has agreed to provide the National Park Service, which manages Ebey’s Landing, with funding for historic preservation projects.
The Navy will provide $867,000 for work to restore Ferry House — a home built in 1860 on the prairie of Ebey’s Landing — and $20,000 for the installation of interpretative signs at various locations.
The Navy’s recent decision marks the completion of its Section 106 review under the National Historic Preservation Act.
The process is related to its development of an environmental impact statement, or EIS, examining the potential environmental impacts of its proposed increase in operations at NAS Whidbey.
In September, the Navy released its final EIS for the project. Before completing the final step in that process, the Navy had to complete the Section 106 review.
Throughout the EIS process, the Navy consulted from October 2014 to November 2018 with various historic preservation authorities and interest groups, according to the letter.
The Navy’s EIS states the addition of Growlers is needed to modernize the fleet at NAS Whidbey, which is home to the Navy’s Airborne Electronic Attack wing and a key element of national defense.