In our opinion: Recommendation in lawsuit against Navy is not a referendum on Growlers

News of a federal magistrate judge’s report and recommendation in a lawsuit against the Navy over aircraft noise will inevitably renew friction on Whidbey Island between those on either side of the Growler divide.

But residents should take the magistrate judge’s words for what they are — a criticism of a study. They do not reflect on the men and women in the EA-18G Growler squadrons at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island or the electronic warfare community.

It’s also important to realize that the recommendations, if adopted by the federal judge, don’t mean Growlers will be grounded. The likely outcome is that parts of the Navy’s Environmental Impact Statement will have to be redone. The plaintiffs may ask for aircraft practice to be restricted during the study period, but that will be up to the federal judge who will read the report and recommendation before issuing a final decision.

After the analysis is redone, top Navy officials will again make a decision about the future of the Growlers on Whidbey.

Growlers serve a vital role in national defense. At its root, the mission of the electronic attack aircraft is to save troops’ lives, the most noble role in warfare. Landing on aircraft is a dangerous maneuver that pilots need to practice. In addition, the Navy base is key to the island’s economy and members of the Navy help make the fabric of the community.

These factors should be weighed along with environmental issues when decisions are made about the size and shape of the aircraft presence at the base. But the military still needs to follow federal law. Military leaders need facts to make the best decisions. A well-done Environmental Impact Statement is the best mechanism to suss out the truth regarding the effects operations will have on the natural world, human health and school.

That’s the point the state Attorney General’s Office made when it filed the lawsuit against the Navy, simply arguing that the environmental study was incomplete and flawed. The anti-noise group Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve also filed suit and the two lawsuits were joined.

Magistrate Judge J. Richard Creatura agreed with both the AG and COER in several key issues, most notably on the effect Growler noise has on childhood learning. He wrote that the Navy acknowledged finding numerous studies showing aircraft noise does impact children in the classroom but then arbitrarily dismissed the studies because it could not quantify what the impact would be.

“To borrow the words of noted sports analyst Vin Scully, the Navy appears to have used certain statistics ‘much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination,’” Creatura wrote.

If the magistrate is right — that the Navy’s Environmental Impact Study ignored evidence that didn’t support the goal of bringing more Growlers to Whidbey — it’s a serious problem that shouldn’t be swept under the rug. If he’s right, that means those responsible for the study let down those who are dedicated to flying the vital aircraft, as well as the Whidbey community at large. They created a dark cloud where the sky should be clear and blue.

We want the truth. We can handle the truth. Once the truth is known, people can make fully informed decisions and look for possible solutions.