By Kimberly Cauvel / Skagit Valley Herald
The National Defense Authorization Act that sets the military budget for 2020 includes a section members of Congress and of the regional Sound Defense Alliance say will require real-time monitoring of jet noise at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
The act has passed Congress and now requires President Donald Trump’s signature to enact it.
Noise from EA-18G Growler jets flown out of NAS Whidbey has long been a contentious issue for area communities including Coupeville and Oak Harbor.
Residents, environmental groups and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson have argued — through public comment on the Navy’s recent addition of 36 jets at the base and in lawsuits — that the Growlers are louder than other types of jets stationed at the base and that an increase in the number of flights is impacting human health, wildlife and the enjoyment of public lands.
Some have also contested the Navy’s reliance on computer modeling to determine the impact of jet noise — a major issue raised during the Navy’s completion of an Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, for the recent addition to its fleet.
Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Rick Larsen, both Democrats representing the state, say the provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that requires noise monitoring in 2020 will address those concerns.
“Noise from Growler training has caused much concern in local communities,” Cantwell said in a joint news release with Larsen. “Publicly available real-time monitoring of Whidbey Island and the Olympic National Park will provide transparency and a basis for an accurate discussion on the impacts of the increased flight activity between the Navy, the state, and the communities involved.”
According to the offices of Cantwell and Larsen, the provision requires the Navy to monitor jet noise at the base, at Outlying Field Coupeville and throughout the flight paths used. The flight paths include the skies above Olympic National Park, Olympic National Forest and Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.
“I am happy the final bill includes real-time noise monitoring language to require the Navy to mitigate the effects of military aircraft noise on private residences, schools and hospitals,” Larsen, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in the release. “This provision will ensure air crews can get vital training while better understanding and reducing the impact of operations on surrounding communities.”
The provision requires the Navy to submit a report to the Armed Services Committee on Dec. 1, 2020, that details monitoring results and how they compare with previous computer modeling data, as well as provide the information on a public web page.
Sound Defense Alliance, of which several area nonprofits including a local Sierra Club chapter and Friends of the San Juans are members, is celebrating the required monitoring.
“This is essential progress to addressing the presence of Growler jets in Northwest Washington. … Noise monitoring is a gateway for a real solution to the recent expansion of Growler jets and Growler operations,” Maryon Attwood of the alliance said in a news release from the organization. “This is great news and will require our vigilance in making the Navy accountable to the public.”