Despite an ongoing debate about jet noise, particularly at Outlying Field Coupeville, residents expressed broad support at a forum on the possible installation of several additional P-8A squadrons at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.
The squadrons would be in place by 2016.
Even members of the Coupeville-based group Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, which filed a federal lawsuit over jet noise at OLF Coupeville, expressed support for relocation of the P-8A squadrons to Whidbey.
“I want to see all the P-8s here and the Growlers to go somewhere else,” said COER member Paula Spina. “P-8s are people friendly.”
This EIS process is unrelated to the one that will study the environmental impacts of the EA-18G Growlers and the EA-6B Prowlers at both Ault Field and Outlying Field Coupeville.
Those forums will be held Dec. 3-5 in Coupeville, Oak Harbor and Anacortes.
The EIS dealing with the P-8A squadrons are considering two alternatives resulting in either six or seven new fleet squadrons.
The new P-8A jets will replace the existing three P-3 squadrons currently stationed at NAS Whidbey.
“We’ve been flying the P-3 since the early 1960s and it’s been a great work horse for the Navy,” said Capt. Vince Segars, commander of one of NAS Whidbey’s P-3 squadrons.
“Everybody in the place is excited to fly a new aircraft. Its performance is going to be better.”
According to the EIS, the P-8A emits fewer harmful emissions than the P-3, and is able to ascend faster, decreasing noise impact.
Rick Meyer, with U.S. Fleet Forces Aviation Shore Readiness, said the P-8A is “slightly” louder than the P-3, but that it will be performing fewer operations. Currently, about 25 percent of P-3 training operations are done via aircraft simulators, Meyer said.
With the transition to the P-8A, about 75 percent of operations will be performed with simulators. For that reason, Meyer said, even though the number of operations will increase, the impact on the community will be very low.
A few in attendance seemed concerned that the sound level reporting by the Navy was done by modeling and not actual recorded sound levels.
Meyer responded that modeling provides more accurate data because it allows the Navy to factor in variables such as weather.
Capt. Mike Nortier, commanding officer for NAS Whidbey, who was in attendance to field residents’ questions, said that, while the P8-A transition is still a few years away, the new squadrons and their support staffs will provide stimulus to the Whidbey Island economy.
“There will be more active-duty sailors and next spring we’ll get a decision from leaders on the scope of new construction,” Nortier said.
Becky Spraitzar, a member of another group, Concerned Citizens of Island County, said the forum offered a good way for residents to voice concerns about the impacts of the aircraft on the community.
“Let’s make NAS Whidbey the poster child for how the Navy and the community can work together,” Spraitzar said. “I honestly believe we can work together.”
Copies of the draft supplemental EIS are available for review at the Oak Harbor, Coupeville, Anacortes and La Conner libraries.