Coupeville jet noise forum raises health concerns

Frustration was apparent Tuesday as more than 100 people gathered to hear health professionals talk about the effects of jet noise on adults and children.

After the presentations, a microphone was passed around to allow audience members to comment and ask questions.

Occupational Specialist and Registered Nurse Karen Bowman warned of the impact of over-exposure to extreme noise levels. According to studies, she said, the brain interprets loud noises as danger, triggering a chain reaction of stress hormones. She said this can result in increased anxiety, hypertension and lead to cardiac diseases.

“We do know there is significant health effects with jet noise, and it’s increased with night-time noise exposure,” Bowman said.

Washington State University researcher Katherine Karr admitted that the best option health-wise was for the source of the jet noise to be removed. Members of the audience, however, scoffed when Karr suggested that to mitigate the effects they simply remove themselves from proximity to the noise or wear protective earplugs.

University researcher Samantha Serrano, who gave the presentation on impacts to children, said that she was unable to find any specific research in reference to the effect of military aircraft noise on children. She did present data, however, about the effect of commercial airports on children. Serrano said that children living near airports had more difficulties with reading, finishing tasks and staying focused.

Studies on physical health impacts for children, such as hearing loss, are largely inconclusive, she said, and more research will need to be done in this field.

Three open houses hosted by the Navy are scheduled as follows: 4-8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3, at Coupeville High School; 4-8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4, at Oak Harbor High School; and 4-8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, at Anacortes Middle School.

“Please come to the scoping meeting,” said North Whidbey resident Shannon Stone during the comment period. “If we’re not heard, nothing happens. Show up with your information, your anger, your love of your grandchildren … they need to hear how we live.”

Former county commissioner Angie Homola told the group that she was a Navy wife and advocated for additional P-8As due to the difference in noise produced from the Prowler and Growler aircraft. She said the community needs to work with the Navy to solve the issue.

“None of the Navy folks want to hurt those folks,” Homola said. “They don’t want to damage them. But we have to ask the difficult questions so we are protected.”

“You can say to the Navy, ‘How are you possibly going to protect my children playing in a ball field?’ ” said organizer Michael Monson in his introduction. “What is that doing to you? That is what we are here to learn tonight.”

The group organizing the event, Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, or COER, filed a federal suit against the Navy in July over jet noise at Outlying Field Coupeville, part of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

In its lawsuit, COER demanded an Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, be conducted by the Navy.

Detractors claim that the Navy’s new aircraft, the EA-18G Growler is louder than its predecessor, the EA-6B Prowler, and that the Navy performed far more landing practices at OLF Coupeville than it estimated in 2005.

The Navy, which suspended operations at OLF until the end of the year, announced in July its intention to initiate an EIS.

Monson announced at the end of the meeting that a Navy liaison had walked out of the meeting “in a huff.”

“That’s your Navy,” Monson told the group.

The Navy employee, Jennifer Meyer, works as a liaison officer for Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, but attended simply as a private citizen, according to Mike Welding, NAS Whidbey public affairs officer. Welding said Navy representatives were invited to the event, but Meyers was not sent to represent the Navy base.

“Jennifer was there as her own person, just to listen and observe,” Welding said.

Meyer had asked for the microphone to ask a question of one of the health professionals, said Monson, and Welding confirmed. Monson asked her to identify herself as a Navy employee, she refused and then left.

“I wish she’d had the guts to stay,” Monson said later.

A handful of people who spoke called out Congressman Rick Larsen as being pro-Navy and unsympathetic to their concerns.

“Jobs jobs jobs, that’s all that matters to Rick Larsen,” said Oak Harbor resident Tim Verschuyl. “We have to stand up and make our voices heard.”

When asked to respond to these comments, Larsen’s office issued the following comments via email:

“Rep. Larsen has met with community members, elected officials and NAS Whidbey Island leadership on this issue at least 14 separate times to discuss concerns about aircraft noise at NAS Whidbey and the outlying field. At his encouragement, the base restarted its community leaders meetings to provide a forum for local community leaders to discuss these kinds of issues and the base started providing a lot more information about operations at the field.

“Rep. Larsen is committed to ensuring that NAS Whidbey Island remains one of the preeminent military installations used by our armed forces, while also ensuring that those who live near the base are not negatively impacted by base operations.”

But in reference to Verschuyl’s comment about jobs, Larsen’s office said, “The constituent is absolutely correct that Rep. Larsen is absolutely focused on job creation and investing in the foundation of long-term economic growth in Northwest Washington.”

Bowman, who has worked in state and local health policy for years, encouraged attendees to continue to contact their elected representatives on every level about their concerns.

“The squeaky wheel gets the oil,” Bowman said. “Let your legislators know how you feel. You need to either thank them or spank them.”


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