Forum: Noise from Navy Growlers on Whidbey no threat to health

The noise is fleeting and the training of the aircrafts’ crews are important to the nation’s security.

By Terry Sparks / Herald Forum

As an engineer I keep an open mind when reading studies. However, we do look at the details.

I obtained a copy of the three reports issued to prove how harmful the Navy’s EA-18G Growler aircraft at Naval Air Station Whidbey are, including “Military Flights Threaten the Wilderness Soundscapes of Olympic Peninsula, Washington”; “Above and Below: Military Aircraft Noise in Air and under Water at Whidbey Island, Washington”; “A Summary of the Association Between Noise and Health.”

The first two documents start the study with a title and goal in mind. The result: Twisted facts. The third study by the Washington state Department of Health seems to be accurate and not twisted. The report identifies that loud noise over an extended period such as eight and 24 hours in the frequency range of 3,000 to 6,000 Hz can be an issue. But states this type of noise is not associated with aircraft.

Most people do not use the decibel unit of measure. Basically, 120 to 140 decibels compares to a rock concert or racetrack; jet engines and shot guns firing are at 150 decibels.

None of the reports provide the relevant information that the decibel level decreases by the square of the distance in the air. Thus, a 150-decibel jet engine noise level will drop to 81.6 decibels a half-mile away and down to only 75.5 decibels a mile away. The noise threshold is 70 decibels.

Sound travels 5 times faster in water than in air. The distance that sound waves travel in water is primarily dependent upon ocean temperature and pressure. Thus making the sounds from large ships transiting Puget Sound more detrimental to killer whales than any spike of noise caused by a jet taking off. Those vessels transit for hours, the jets transit over water for seconds.

The reports use several tactics to make Growlers look bad. But consider:

• Because jets move fast the data is momentary not long term.

• In the water data recorded for a jet taking off at NAS Whidbey cannot be related to effects at the outlying field (OLF) at Coupeville.

• Compared noise from undefined ship types to momentary jet noise in the water.

• Since large tankers and cargo vessels transit Puget Sound daily, a better comparison would have

been a 24-hour average where the jet noise would be insignificant.

• The switching scale game was used on charts to make jet noise look worse.

I understand there are approximately 200 people in the Citizens of Ebeys Reserve groups trying to shutdown the outlying field using any means possible. We have some very rich people that bought land in the wrong place trying to increase property values.

One COER article complains that the 1.34 million Department of Defense employees are not giving their small group the attention it wants.

Another article claims there is a fourfold increase in operations at NAS Whidbey. While that is false, if China continues the track they are presently on, it might be true in 2025 when the Chinese claim they will be the world power.

A third article suggested the operations be completed only during the day when kids are in school. While I can see the author’s point, our Navy does not fight wars only in the daytime. They must know how to land at night. The outlying keeps being referred to as a training location. That is true, but a better word is a pre-qualification landing strip prior to being sent out to land on a carrier.

All of the studies seem to focus on shutting down Growler airplanes while the COER just wants them to move someplace else. At some point we need to decide the mission of the military. Should the Department of Defense be wasting all the time and effort on COER or should they be focused on the eminent threats such as communist China and Russia.

Being an engineer, it would be wrong to end this paper without a solution that should work for everyone. Solution: The Department of Defense should claim eminent domain on the property owned by COER members. As a result of being in a “high noise areas” the cost should be minimal to the government for those properties.

Terry Sparks lives in Oak Harbor.

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