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Central Whidbey jet noise damaging, study suggests

Jet noise over Central Whidbey is loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage, a privately-funded acoustics study asserts.

Jerry G. Lilly, president of Issaquah-based JGL Acoustics, was hired earlier this year by Citizens of the Ebey’s Reserve for a Healthy, Safe and Peaceful Environment to conduct an auditory study on jet operations at the U.S. Navy’s Outlying Field Coupeville.

The study results claim noise levels are not only louder than the Navy forecast in a 2005 federally required environmental assessment, but pose a potential health hazard to the community.

Ken Pickard, a member of the citizens group’s board of directors, said Lilly’s study cost about $5,000 and provides the first conclusive evidence that information in the 2005 study was inaccurate.

On June 11, the group’s attorney, David Mann of Seattle-based Gendler & Mann, sent high-ranking Navy officers and Island County’s congressional delegation a letter.

The letter requested “immediate steps” be taken to prepare a new environmental analysis of the Growler and its operations at the airstrip.

A statement released by base spokesman Mike Welding said, “The Navy will respond to the letter received from the law firm of Gender and Mann sent on behalf of the Citizens of the Ebey’s Reserve in a timely manner.

“The Navy is currently evaluating the information cited in the letter, to include the noise study performed by Jerry G. Lilly. No further comment regarding the information contained in the letter or the Navy’s response can be provided at this time,” Welding stated.

According to the 2005 study examining the Navy’s transition from the Prowler to the Growler, flight operations at the airfield were expected to decrease by up to 20 percent, from 7,682 in 2003 to an estimated 6,120 in 2013.

Mann’s letter maintains the reality was the exact opposite. While flight operations did drop to a low of 2,548 in 2008, they have steadily risen to a peak of 9,668 in 2012, according to information provided through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The 2005 study predicted sound levels near one specific site at 77 decibels for 2013. Using an average sound exposure level for each jet flyover to calculate the day/night average, Lilly calculated one daytime session and one nighttime session at 79.2 decibels.

Two daytime and two nighttime sessions, however, bumped the average up to 92.6 decibels. Lilly said that is “significantly higher” than the 2005 estimates but speculated it may be because noise levels were predicted based on an annual average that included no-flight days.

“We now have facts they can’t dispute,” Monson said.

According to Pickard, the citizens group will not back down. Should the Navy not respond by July 12, the organization’s attorneys will file a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

“They should deal with this problem,” Pickard said of the Navy. “It’s not going to go away.”

 

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