The secretary of the Navy’s decision to assign 80 percent of the EA-18G Growler carrier landing practice to Naval Air Station’s Outlying Field Coupeville, as opposed to the larger and busier Ault Field base, surprised some people who expected a compromise.
But the Navy held fast to its “preferred alternative,” identified following an exhaustive, though some claim flawed, process of studying, researching and gathering input from the community.
The record of decision cites congestion at the Ault Field base, which will still have four times the number of aircraft operations as OLF Coupeville. It explains that the Central Whidbey airfield is perfect for pilots to practice landing on aircraft carriers, one of the most difficult and dangerous maneuvers a pilot can make.
The decision states that the number of flights isn’t a departure from historic levels. All important factors in the decision.
The Navy’s decision not to conduct noise monitoring, however, has little rationale behind it.
The Navy relies on computer noise modeling, which looks at the average decibels over time and is pretty meaningless to the average person.
Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson pointed out that the Navy’s computer-generated models won’t, for example, help a builder to decide how much noise attenuation to put into a house.
The Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, local officials and activists all asked for “real-world” noise monitoring.
The U.S. Parks Service conducted acoustic monitoring on Central Whidbey and found the EIS “significantly under represented” noise levels.
Oddly, the record of decision states that the Parks Service monitoring supports the Navy’s models of noise estimates.
Perhaps Navy officials believe monitoring would be a pointless exercise. Perhaps they worry that the results might be misunderstood, or would stoke more resentment.
Perhaps they’re worried about what the results would show.
Whatever the reason, it’s not harmful to have more information.
For people living in the flight path, or local government making decisions on zoning, understanding the real-world spikes in noise is critical information to have.
The Navy, in moving forward with its preferred alternative, should fund independent and ongoing noise monitoring.