- Many communities around Puget Sound and the Salish Sea depend on tourism, especially those on the Olympic Peninsula,
the San Juan Islands and other regional communities. (Olympic National Park is by far the largest contributor to the Olympic
Peninsula economy.) Allowing the area to become a giant military staging ground will cripple the tourism industry and
threaten small businesses: inns, B&Bs, restaurants, farms, wineries/distilleries, retailers, and outdoor recreation (whalewatching, diving, kayaking, paddle boarding, boating).
- Coupeville is the second oldest town in Washington State. It attracts upwards of 90,000 tourists per year.6 A four-fold
increase in Growler flights would drive tourists away and diminish the economic vitality of Coupeville.
- Outdoor recreation is valued at $21.6 billion and helps to create 199,000 jobs. Outdoor enthusiasts spend the most when they are recreating on the water. This is more than the $15 billion contributed to our economy by military and defense industries.
- Jobs in Washington depend on its pristine skies, lands, and waters.
Farming and Fishing
- Farms on Central Whidbey produce food for the island and for restaurants throughout the region. They contribute to the
island’s local economy and food security. But farmers cannot tend their crops during Growler operations because of noise
deemed unsafe for workers by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Quadrupling flights threatens farming on Central Whidbey. Jet engines do not burn cleanly, but their toxic by-products tend to disperse high in the atmosphere. But, because the Growlers fly at low altitudes during landing practices, toxic particulates fill our air, fall into our waters, and drift down to our soils. Healthy food cannot grow on acreage exposed to constant pollution from above, which is why California—with strict clean air regulations—prohibits such maneuvers.
- The average annual commercial value for Puget Sound crab, shrimp, mussel, oyster, geoduck, and other clams is $44 million. Recreational shell fishing is valued at $42 million per year; recreational fishing in Puget Sound at $57 million a year;
commercial fishing at $4 million a year. What might the additional noise and carbon dioxide pollution from more military
jets do to water quality and to these economies?
Loss of Homes, Property Values and Property Taxes
- People are being forced from the homes they love because they cannot tolerate the noise. They are required to have disclosure clauses on their real estate sales if they live near where these aircraft fly. This is emotionally and financially crippling to homeowners. Proposed increased operations will likely cause Accident Potential Zones (APZs) to be imposed.
Island County will have to change zoning designations to prevent development. Similar downzoning has had negative effects on other communities, making mortgages and home loans difficult, impeding housing sales, and reducing property values. Unoccupied houses and deterioration of affected areas creates social, public health, and safety issues. Approximately 4,400 land parcels with an assessed value of $1.3 billion will be affected.
- As property use is restricted and people move away, revenue from property taxes may fall, leaving remaining Island County
residents to shoulder the burden of paying more taxes to support firefighting, police, emergency, and other essential local
services. Who will pay the costs of APZ-required land actions?
Homes outside the APZs but within the sound field (areas where sound is disturbing, dependent on the direction the jet’s tailpipe is aimed) will decline in value, stripping many property owners of their single biggest asset, their home, and further lowering property tax revenue for the county.
Why is a small county being forced to subsidize the nation’s military? Why should its citizens face such extreme negative economic consequences?
Water (Drinking, Agricultural)
- For years, Navy personnel trained with a chemical foam to extinguish a potential fire at a Growler crash site. Two of
Coupeville’s community wells have been contaminated by these chemicals. While industry and local fire stations are required by law to eliminate this type of fire-fighting foam, the Navy – along with refineries and chemical plants – is exempt and maintains a stockpile. A four-fold increase in operations at the OLF increases the likelihood that foam will be used.
- Central and South Whidbey islanders have no access to fresh water apart from the aquifer underlying the island. This natural reservoir is what makes Whidbey Island habitable. One Growler crash could contaminate all of Central Whidbey’s water supply and its single-source aquifer.
- New studies reveal safe levels of these toxins is a tenth of the current EPA standard. Coupeville water is above the new limits. In August of 2018, Senator Maria Cantwell, joined by other senators, introduced legislation to hold federal agencies,
including active and decommissioned military bases, responsible for contamination of ground water by fire-fighting chemicals.
Risk of An Accident
- The Growler’s F-18 airframe is one of the most accident-prone military airframes in existence. Between 1980 and 2014, the F18 sustained 39 accidents; 22 crashes of the EA-18G and F/A-18 E, F have occurred since 2000. The F-18 Super Hornet platform has a mishap rate well above the average of all military aircraft, including two serious mishaps involving EA-18G Growlers, since December of 2016.
Given this history, increased flights would endanger schools, hospitals, homes, parks/playfields, and highways located near the runway. Parts of state Route 20, the only north-south highway on Whidbey Island, lie beneath the Growler’s highest-risk crash zone. Coupeville’s elementary, middle, and high schools are all located within four miles of the runway. Hospitals and fire stations are also close by, as are businesses and residences.
- To provide acceptable civilian safeguards and livability, the Navy prefers at least 2,000 unsettled acres to conduct a training program of this kind. Yet, repeatedly, the Navy has granted itself waivers on Whidbey, and local policymakers have looked the other way. Today, there are training missions over 664 acres of populated land on Whidbey Island. Thus, the Navy is in violation of its own safety standards, thereby putting islanders at risk.
- The runway itself is unsafe. The 5,400-foot strip, built prior to 1943 to accommodate aircraft built in the 1940s, is nearly 3,500 feet too short for Growler jet “touch and go” operations, which require 8,800 feet. The runway cannot be extended. For 32 years, the runway has failed to meet Navy runway safety standards. Thus, the Navy is putting its own pilots in danger by asking them to train on an inadequate runway.
- Our pilots should have the best possible training, and the Navy should provide a training site that provides realistic carrier landing and takeoff conditions in a way that does not needlessly endanger pilots or civilians.
- A single Growler costs $85-100 million. These very expensive weapons, paid for by taxpayers, should be deployed in an area equipped to handle their needs. At present, the Outlying Runway at Coupeville cannot do that.
Economic Effects of Hosting the Naval Base
The presence of the Navy means lost revenue for Island County and increased demand for county services in the following ways:
- Although Navy children attend district schools, the school system is reimbursed only 25 percent of the cost of educating them.
- Sailors often use local support services funded by sales and property taxes paid by civilians.
- The military brings in people who are given a “market rate” housing allowance that has driven up rent prices, forcing out those who can no longer afford higher rents.
- A workforce housing crisis exists on Whidbey Island. Local businesses cannot keep up with demand for housing or expand because employees cannot find affordable places to rent.
- Although only 109 new housing units are created annually in Island County, the Growler squadron expansion will import an estimated 634 personnel and their families. The Navy has no plans to expand housing on the base. Why not? Housing additional Navy personnel off base creates more hardship for working-class community members.
- The external costs of living with jet noise is imposed without warning or recourse on citizens across the region: in San Juan, Skagit, Jefferson, Clallam, and even Snohomish and Okanagan Counties. The proposed expansion will likely increase these costs.
- The effects of inflated housing markets and increased traffic congestion in Island County are also felt by residents of Island County’s neighbor, Skagit County. The proposed expansion will likely magnify these effects.
Wildlife/Marine Life/Bird Populations
- Puget Sound is the nation’s second largest estuary. The waters of the Salish Sea are some of the most biologically significant and productive marine areas in the world, home to both abundant and threatened species of marine life, including six endangered whale species, threatened Stellar sea lions, threatened and endangered salmon, steelhead, and rockfish species, and endangered leatherback sea turtles. The rivers of the Olympic Peninsula are important habitat where salmon reproduce. Aircraft noise and sonic booms have been implicated as a cause of lowered reproduction in a variety of animals.
- The pod of Southern resident orcas that inhabits the Salish Sea is on the decline; only 74 remain. Both high and low frequency noise have negative impacts on whales’ ability to navigate and identify food. The carbon dioxide in jet exhaust acidifies the water, damaging the web of marine life that sustain salmon, the orca’s primary food source. Additionally, chemical compounds from the Navy’s fire retardant, already in Whidbey’s aquifer, enter Puget Sound as surface run-off. These effects, taken together, will further stress the pod and may make the difference between survival and extinction.
- The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary includes 3,188 square miles of marine waters off the rugged Olympic Peninsula coastline. The sanctuary extends 25 to 50 miles seaward, covering much of the continental shelf and several major submarine canyons. The sanctuary protects a productive upwelling zone, home to marine mammals and seabirds. Along its shores are thriving kelp and inter-tidal communities, teeming with fishes and other sea life. Scattered communities of deep-sea coral and sponges form habitats for fish and other important marine wildlife.
- Olympic National Park is home to the endangered spotted owl and marbled murrelet. Its coastline is the biannual flyway for billions of migrating birds that depend on navigational signals disrupted by the jets. Growlers also collide with birds. Reported “mishaps” include “large flock of birds hit after takeoff,” “bird strike shut down engine,” “bird ingested sometime after flight,” and “encountered bird flock that FODed (foreign object damage) both engines.” In Navy parlance, a bird is a foreign object and a jet plane is not.
- Although the Pentagon has, in recent years, increasingly emphasized what it calls energy security—energy resilience and conservation—it is still a significant consumer of fossil fuel energy. Indeed, the Department of Defense is the world’s largest institutional user of petroleum and the single largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world.
- A four-fold increase in Growler flights adds 60,000 metric tons of additional carbon dioxide—a known cause of climate change— and speed ocean acidification, harming coral reefs, shellfish, and marine ecosystems.
National Parks, Monuments and Other Protected Lands
Puget Sound and Salish Sea is bordered by 68 state parks and 8 national parks and monuments, wildlife refuges, forests, and public lands. These assets help drive approximately $9.5 billion in travel spending, including 88,000 tourist-related jobs that bring $3 billion to the region, much of it to Washington State.
- Increased noise over the Olympic National Park threatens its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve.
- The San Juan Islands National Monument encompasses 1,000 acres spread across a unique archipelago of 450 islands, rocks, and pinnacles that includes scientific and historic treasures, a refuge for wildlife, and a classroom for generations of Americans.
- Deception Pass State Park is Washington’s most-visited state park, offering fishing, swimming, hiking, and bird-watching opportunities. During flyovers by the jets, campers have chosen to pull up stakes and fold up their tents, shortening their stay to escape the noise.
- America has a proud tradition of setting aside lands for public enjoyment. Public enjoyment is inconsistent with the purposes of a military installation conducting warfare exercises.
- Pacific Northwest reserves, parks, and monuments provide a home for birds, mammals, and marine life. Migration patterns, mating habits, and feeding patterns are disturbed by noise from the Growlers. The presence of the Growlers conflicts with an important mission of the National Parks Service to preserve the soundscape of parks.
A Historical Reserve Assaulted by Growlers
- Whidbey Island’s Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, the first and only in the nation, tells the story of the Native Americans who occupied the prairies and forests and the settlers who followed. The Reserve draws visitors seeking to experience an authentic setting; its tilled fields, estuaries, and quiet skies represent the best of “heritage tourism.” Yet, Ebey’s Reserve bears the brunt of Growler jets as they “touch and go” on the nearby runway. Noisy jets flying overhead are incompatible with the peace and authenticity of a historical reserve.
- Forty years ago, the community on Central Whidbey made the decision to protect Ebey’s Reserve; property owners gave up their development rights. Allowing military jets unlimited access to the airspace above the Reserve diminishes the significance of this community effort.Historical structures—barns, cabins, storehouses—are threatened by Growlers that fly 300-600 feet overhead.
- Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires that adverse effects on historic properties must be avoided, minimized, or mitigated. While weakening of the structures and outright damage from intense low frequency vibrations from the Growlers is virtually guaranteed with 100 flights on busy training days, the Section 106 requirement has been disregarded.
Although the Navy is required to consult with local authorities— mayors, commissioners, and managers of Ebey’s Reserve—it has failed to do so, instead issuing a “memorandum of agreement” that none of the partners have agreed to. The Navy terminated negotiations in November, 2018 without reaching an agreement.
- An increase in Growler flights impinges on the treaty-promised hunting and fishing rights of native peoples. Pacific Northwest native tribes rely on the forests, rivers, and oceans for their survival and way of life. The lands and seas on which they depend are subjected to military maneuvers: bombing practice, ship-sinking, and sonar buoys that have killed whales, dolphins, porpoises, and other marine mammals.
Balance of State and Federal Power
- According to Article 1, Section 18 of the Washington State Constitution: “The military shall be in strict subordination to the civil power.” The Department of Defense is running roughshod over Washington’s authority and responsibility to determine its own destiny.
National Security and Operational Readiness
- It runs counter to military policy to station all crucial defense assets on one base, yet the Department of Defense plans on doing just that by locating the entire Growler squadron on Whidbey Island.
- Whidbey and the surrounding islands would become a prime target for any enemy that attacks the United States. Whidbey is accessible by two ferries and one bridge. In an attack, military personnel and civilians would be trapped.
- Whidbey Island sits atop five fault lines. Growler squadrons are vulnerable to an earthquake.
Public Response, Public Participation
- 4,355 comments were submitted to the Navy in response to its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). Over the past few years, an additional 33,000 letters have been sent to the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior, the Navy, the Forest Service, and elected officials at all levels. Hundreds of calls have been made to the Navy’s noise complaint hotline.
- A DEIS is mandated to be fewer than 300 pages. The DEIS for proposed Growler flights exceeds 1,400 pages, making it difficult for citizens to review.
- Despite its length, the DEIS failed to provide essential information. Important statistics (like the 22 crashes since 2000 of the EA-18G and its closely related F/A-18 E,F aircraft) were withheld. It also omitted several aggravating factors at the Outlying Field that are conducive to catastrophic accidents capable of endangering the populace, the environment, local properties, and the pilots themselves.
- Local leaders repeatedly requested meetings with the Navy to discuss the Section 106 Process relevant to Ebey’s Historical Reserve. The Navy has ignored these requests.
- This decision—to single site all Growlers in Puget Sound—comes from “the other Washington,” which has no sense of our state, regional, or local conditions and needs.
- Washington State’s Attorney General has filed a lawsuit in Seattle District Count alleging that a Navy environmental review unlawfully fails to fully measure the impacts to public health and the environment. Washington State Governor Jay Inslee said that the expanded Navy training “could result in disproportionate impacts on the state’s environment, health, and quality of life.”
- We demand a fair chance to be heard regarding this unprecedented encroachment on public and private lands and waters, in our state and national parks, and in the skies over our communities. All along, we have voiced our opposition; the Navy and the Department of Defense have refused to hear us.
Representative Rick Larsen
Congressional District 2 (Includes Island County)
2113 Rayburn House Office Building,
Washington, D.C. 20515
202-225-2605 • Fax 202-225-4420
Senator Patty Murray
154 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
202-224-2621 • Fax 202-224-0238
Senator Maria Cantwell
1 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510
202-224-3441 • Fax 202-228-0514
Representative Derek Kilmer
Congressional District 6 (includes Port Townsend)
1520 Longworth HOB
Washington D.C. 20515
202-225-5916 • FAX 202-226-3575
Governor Jay Inslee
Office of the Governor
PO Box 40002
Olympia, WA 98504-0002
Washington State information: 1-800-321-2808