by Brenda Asterino
A screening of “Plane Truths,” a documentary exploring the impact of the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island Growler program on the surrounding region, will be held at 7 p.m. on April 25, at Lopez Center. The production by Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young was released in January, and is presented by Quiet Skies Over San Juan County and co-sponsored by Huddle Lopez Island. Admission is free; donations are welcome to cover expenses.
Through a series of interviews with residents of Whidbey Island, Port Townsend, Lopez Island and the commander of NASWI, “Plane Truths” reveals the unresolved issues between the military and these communities affected by the roaring noise made by the touch-and-go exercises and flyovers of these loud aircraft. The Navy has submitted a draft environmental study that seeks to document effects of the move to expand the fleet of 82 Growlers by more than 1/3. As the noise has increased since 2012, strong objections have been raised to the Growler mission as well as staunch regional resistance to the proposed expansion to 118 Growlers.
Enamored with Lopez’s peace, it’s a shock to hear and internally feel the Growlers. The juxtaposition of the two states of living is nerve- wracking. I personally experience sleep disturbance on nights of maneuvers.
Speaking to others, depending on where they live, there are experiences worth noting. One couple said, “We moved to Lopez to escape the Growlers and are discussing this again.” Another resident from central Lopez said, “The noise is super loud and disruptive. Even if the windows are closed, I have to wait for the plane(s) to pass and the windows to stop shaking.”
A state park ranger stated that she had personally “felt the noise disturbances in the natural landscapes” on the south end of Lopez.
“There are times where I need to cover my ears, and I fear for my dog’s hearing. Many visitors at the state parks are asking questions about the noise. They come for the solitude and can’t experience it. Many show annoyance, especially when it stops conversation,” she stated. “They fly so low I can see into the cockpit.” Others also commented about planes flying lower than 1,000 feet.
Leslie Quenell from Lopez’s south end confirmed, “Growlers fly over my home all times of the day and night. It is so loud, I can’t hear anything else.” When on the beach, in the forest or working with her horses on Sperry Road, she reports that “the noise is crushing. When jets fly low with heavy cloud cover, the noise is worse.”
Todd Goldsmith stated, “Over the past few years, we are noticing hearing problems in our livestock.”
San Juan County collects noise data from county residents at http://sjcgis.org/aircraft-noise-reporting. In January and February, reports totaled 866. Since May of 2014, 10,036 Growler noise reports have been recorded the county.
According to hearnet.com, “OSHA monitoring requirements begins at 90 decibels. Regular sustained noise at 90-95 dB may cause permanent damage. Pain begins at 125 dB.” Sustained 115 decibels from the Growlers have been measured by people on San Juan Island. According to a Seattle Times article, the “EPA finds Navy study on Growler expansion is insufficient, and asks for on-the-ground noise monitoring.”
With the addition of 36 more Growlers, noise is expected to increase by 47 percent in San Juan County and the region.
Join Quiet Skies for a discussion of this county wide problem after the film.