I had an insight. My neighbor hired a company with a tree grinder to decimate some big laurel branches and it was making some thunderous noise next door. I whipped out my handy decibel-reading app and stood 10 feet away during the din. It read 93 dB while the grinding noise peaked. I felt my body involuntarily bracing and my pulse quickening in the racket while I rationally knew I was in no danger. During another reading on sound level, I talked out loud to myself and barely hear my voice.
I reflected on people I know in the Coupeville area’s Growler flight path who have registered not this grinder-level, not the 100 dB level of a jackhammer, but the 120 dB level of standing near a full-blown train horn as flights dip a couple hundred feet above their rooftops daily, hourly, and yes, even during their night’s seriously disturbed sleep. Experts say that the body reacts with adrenaline, cortisol and pulse spikes even when a person knows he/she is safe.
Doing the math told me this 120 dB sound is at least eight times as loud as the grinder. I knew I could leave it, but Coupevillians know it is coming back again and again several times within successive hours. Young children cower against parents who cover their ears, elderly and sick people fumble with earplugs, and average folks fight frequent insomnia and high blood pressure.
Now the killer, for 2019 the Navy wants to quadruple what’s already sound hell from 6,000 to 24,000 flight ops a year. Using an obsolete full-day sound-averaging technique they still claim the noise, in an acceptable range, will create negligible sound levels and low harm. (Their own past research papers on aircraft noise document long lists of ailments from this exact level of noise.) In 2016 a prominent economist used a mass of data from the Coupeville population and a widely used European algorithm to calculate that the current flights are affecting 11,000 residents at varying levels, and generate (conservatively) $2.8 million in extra health costs per year. Four times that is $11.2 million.
That’s “just” health. There are other dollar drains inflicted. There’s damage to tourism and reputation, e.g., Deception Pass has regularly been forced to refund passes of irate campers seeking night peace. There’s the shattered peace of outdoor working farmers and outdoor feeding animals that has steered nascent farming businesses away from developing roots on Whidbey. There’s harm to numerous real estate values under the flight paths.
Sadly, there are other well-known and used training locations for these Growlers. But the Navy is trying to stuff its big foot into the small shoe of the Outlying Field: just a 700-acre patch of land with an aged runway that’s 25 percent short of Navy regulation length and surrounded closely by houses, businesses and a highway. Normaly the Navy recommends 30,000 clear acres for such dangerous training but grants itself an unexplained exception here, upping the current unreasonable risk of a disastrous accident fourfold when flights quadruple. (A close relative of the Growler crashed into an apartment complex in Virginia just after takeoff.)
This is not a “Go Away Navy” letter, just a plea that it act firmly to preserve reasonable quality of life for its long-suffering neighbors. These people moved to the island for beauty, reasonable peace and safety, and they are now being told, in effect, to forget this.