Sound Off: Real-time information about Growler flights needed



As many know, Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, or COER, and Washington’s Attorney General sued the Navy over its failure to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. The judge found against the Navy on four counts and ordered the plaintiffs and the Navy to negotiate interim remedies to be in effect until a revised EIS is put in place. The Navy has rejected all remedies suggested by COER.

The extremely loud carrier land practice sessions ignite trauma in veterans with PTSD, compromise at-home businesses, interfere with youngsters doing homework and diminish their cognitive function, aggravate dissociative reactions in autistic children and diminish and intimidate at-home livability to such an extent that many have been forced to relocate, creating dysfunctional turnover neighborhoods.

One remedy COER suggested was to provide real-time information on carrier landing practice — that is, for a given day, Navy would inform, once determined, on the runway flight path to be used and how many practice sessions would occur at what time of day and with how many jets (1 to 5). If initiated, that would enable residents to consider ways to avoid at least some of the noise-debilitating practice sessions. COER’s request was similarly reiterated in a letter from Sound Defense Alliance to base commander Captain Hanks.

The Navy rejected those requests, as explained in a March 10, 2023, response from Capt. Hanks: “Detailed flight information…could reveal national security vulnerabilities, (which) …would likely disrupt, destroy or damage operations, property, or facilities, and pose an unacceptable risk to men and women in uniform….Our adversaries can use detailed flight information, when aggregated, to assess Growler readiness and…inflict significant harm.”

More bark than bite, his explanation appears strained and without substance. That is, anyone on the ground by simple observation can easily tally and aggregate actual landing practice data and provide that to whoever. If our men and women in uniform can actually be put in jeopardy by aggregating observable practice flights, then to protect them those practices needed to be moved to a non-public venue. That argument is a red herring.

But really, what possible benefit can an adversary gain by knowing a few hours ahead of time which of two flight patterns will be used when in just a few more hours all that and more become self-evident through simple observation?

Capt. Hanks further contended that real-time information cannot be revealed because the flight operations have many variables that make practices “fluctuate” from the weekly schedule. However, the inaccuracy of the schedule is exactly the problem that real-time information would fix. So here too, that argument is cockeyed.

The schedule inaccuracies compromise “work-around” planning for residents. This past January to June, 93 out of 130 weekdays (72%) were scheduled for practice at the OLF, but about 20% of the flying was canceled. When residents, who arranged their day to avoid the jets, often at great inconvenience, subsequently discover that flying was canceled, it naturally foments anger, frustration and resentment. Real-time information would mitigate that. Even changes posted just a few hours ahead of flying would enable residents to attempt to adjust their activities accordingly, if they can.

This small and doable ask of the Navy would benefit many trying to live and cope with the jets. The Navy’s nonsensical rejection of the request raises serious questions as to their motive(s) and taints their self-promotion as a “good neighbor.” The Navy should reconsider.

Bob Wilbur is a Central Whidbey resident and the president of Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve.