Navy, elected officials aim to reduce Growler noise impact

As a result of meetings with local elected officials, the Navy has committed to minimizing the impact of touch-and-go operations at Outlying Field Coupeville.

The Navy suspended jet training at the Coupeville-based airfield in May, but resumed them Jan. 6.

Among the measures the Navy plans to adopt are avoiding weekends, school testing dates and major festivals.

Navy officials exceeded the number of expected operations in 2011 and 2012, completing more than 9,000 operations both years.

To address resident concerns, the Navy has announced plans to keep the number of operations at 6,120 per year as originally promised.

The Navy is also issuing the touch-and-go operation schedule a week in advance.

Both Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson and Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard, who meet monthly with Whidbey Island Naval Air Station commanding officer Capt. Mike Nortier, issued letters in recent weeks encouraging the Navy to consider the health and safety of residents.

Conard said Thursday that she’s encouraged by the conversations local officials have had with the Navy and their willingness to work around community schedules and give residents advance notice.

“I’m not saying it’s going to make things easier for people,” Conard said. “But advance knowledge helps.”

Nortier said he plans to continue to be open to comments and suggestions of the community.

“We have built a solid working relationship with Mayor Conard and Commissioner Price Johnson,” Nortier said. “They present issues on behalf of their constituents, many of which we have found common ground on. I would characterize the discussions as an open dialogue where concerns are seen in a holistic fashion.”

The meetings come in the wake of public criticism over the past year of the Navy’s new EA-18G Growler, which is replacing the EA-6B Prowler.

Conard said that the Navy’s mitigating measures are “only a small step” and she anticipates that there may be other ways the Navy can reduce the impact.

At a recent meeting, Nortier addressed concerns that jets are dumping fuel while in flight.

Nortier said that fuel is only dumped in an emergency situation, and must be done by law at 8,000 feet or higher. Liquid seen falling from aircraft is likely contrails, he said, a condensation of water vapor that accumulates around wings and exhaust systems.

In addition to local officials, Congressman Rick Larsen staffer Mike Schanche regularly attends the meetings. Conard said that the offices of other state representatives are also kept up to date on local discussions.

“I believe we’re building a relationship that is starting to bear a little fruit,” Price Johnson said Thursday.

Price Johnson said that while she receives feedback from her constituents both supporting and criticizing the Navy, she sees the Navy’s commitment to keep touch-and-gos to the original 6,120 as a “positive step.”

In addition, Price Johnson said she would like to see the Navy review its flight patterns at OLF to see if changes could help reduce the impact to residents on the ground.

“I’m sure there’s lots of things here I can learn about the Navy,” Price Johnson said. “And the Navy has learned a lot about the resident experience. It raises the level of everyone’s understanding.”


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