Navy ends talks on impacts on historic district

Many of the people involved in negotiating mitigation measures on the impact that an increase in EA18-G Growlers aircraft practice will have on historic Central Whidbey properties were disappointed that the Navy terminated discussions last Friday.

A congressman, the governor and officials from a wide range of groups and agencies at all levels of government have been consulting with the Navy about proposed mitigation, which in this case means money for preserving historic properties to help offset the impact jet noise has on Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

The reserve encompasses a unique area established to protect a rural community and its resources.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Arlington, has been heavily involved in the process. In a statement, Larsen that he is disappointed an agreement could not be reached. Yet he suggested something still might be worked out.

“I will continue to work with both parties in the hopes of finding a solution that appropriately funds the preservation of cultural landmarks,” he said in the statement.

The Navy determined in June that an increase in Growler aircraft carrier landing practice at Outlying Field Coupeville would have an indirect adverse effect on the historic property and structures in the reserve. Under the Navy’s preferred plan, the number of Growlers will increase by 36 and the total number of field carrier landing practice operations will increase by 370 percent at OLF Coupeville.

“Specifically, the preferred alternative would affect the historic integrity of five landscape viewpoints within the historic district,” a Navy press release states.

Under the federal Section 106 process, the Navy was required to consult with other agencies in coming to an agreement about how the Navy should mitigate the impacts. The National Historic Preservation Act allows a federal agency to terminate consultation if an agreement can’t be reached.

The first clue that negotiations weren’t going well came in late October with the Navy’s decision to ask for public comment on a memorandum of agreement even though there was no agreement.

In the press release issued Friday, Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command put the blame on the consulting partners.

“This impasse results from an unwillingness to separate concerns about historic properties from concerns about other economic and community apprehensions surrounding increased Growler flights at the OLF,” it states. “The 106 process is about historic preservation and does not address other possible impacts to the community.”

In contrast, Kristen Griffin, reserve manager, said she believes that Navy officials terminated discussion because they ran out of time before the Navy releases its final decision regarding the number of Growlers and where the landing practice will occur. The decision is expected to be announced any day now.

“They left very little time for what turned out to be a complex consultation,” she said.

Allyson Brooks, state historic preservation officer, said interested parties across the state and country were discussing possible mitigation scenarios all day Friday but received the notice of termination at 4:28 p.m. that day.

“We felt we were still negotiating,” she said.

The Navy sent a press release explain the decision about 10 minutes later.

The sticking point, Griffin said, was defining the scale of the impact the change will have on historic properties. And that comes down to money.

Under the Navy’s draft agreement, it would provide a total of $450,000 for preservation work, a cultural landscape inventory and a gateway sign.

In contrast, the Trust Board of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve suggested $2 million to stabilize concrete structures in Fort Casey and Fort Ebey state parks, $2 million to rehabilitate the Coupeville Wharf and $1.8 million for work preserving the Ferry House.

Griffin said the board chose projects that would reinforce the partnership between the entities involved in the reserve — National Parks, the town of Coupeville and state parks. The board also chose structures that are publicly accessible.

In a Nov. 21 letter to the secretary of the Navy, Larsen urged him to agree to providing $2 million for the Ferry House and $2 million for the Coupeville Wharf.

“Funding for the preservation of these two iconic, historic structures in Ebey’s Reserve is appropriate mitigation for the increase in planes and operations at the Coupeville OLF,” the letter states.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee also touched on the issue in a Oct. 26 letter to the Navy.

“To mitigate this effect, the U.S. Navy should provide funding to stabilize historic barns and structures as well as soundproof historic homes, helping to preserve the sense of community in this unique setting,” he wrote.

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