Trail work launches OLF concerns

The Island County Commissioners voted to move forward with additional work on Central Whidbey’s Rhododendron trail last week, despite concerns voiced by Chairwoman Jill Johnson.

“My concern is that, at this stage, I’m not willing to build under the flight zones,” Johnson said. “If it’s true that it is dangerous to play in the park and to engage in activities in those areas, we need to limit action in the areas of concern.”

According to the county’s noise contours map for the island, the stretch of Rhododendron Trail in question lies within the area surrounding Outlying Field Coupeville that reportedly experiences noise levels at 75 decibels.

A recent independent study recorded levels in excess of 130 decibels.

Operations at OLF have been embroiled in controversy in recent months with a citizens’ group filing a

federal lawsuit against the Navy because of what they say is dangerous and excessive noise from jet landing practices at OLF Coupeville.

Johnson said Island County needs to stop investing public dollars into projects in and around high-noise areas in order to prevent future controversies such as the one currently involving at OLF Coupeville.

Johnson has been a cheerleader for the Navy and moments later, at the July 12 meeting, voted with the other two commissioners to pass a resolution supporting the touch-and-go jet operations at OLF Coupeville.

Johnson said this week that her concerns about the Rhododendron Trail project are completely consistent with her views on jet noise.

“I’m not arguing that the planes aren’t loud — they’re loud,” Johnson said. “There are reasons to have the trail, of course, but we need to quit making public investment in high-noise areas.”

Despite her concerns, commissioners Kelly Emerson, a Republican, and Helen Price Johnson, a Democrat, voted last week in favor of putting the project out for bid.

Price Johnson said that the section of Rhododendron Trail that needs work is “a vital connection” for residents between the rest of the trail, the walking bridge and the Port Townsend Ferry.

“This is an important segment of the trail,” Price Johnson said.

“I heartily support this.”

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