Three Navy alternatives: more noise, more noise or more noise – Part 1 | Guest column

Submitted by Quiet Skies Over San Juan County

The Navy is proposing to add 36 more growler jets at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NASWI). According to its analysis flights in our skies will increase by 47 percent.

For many in San Juan County, the noise is already intolerable. It’s hard to imagine how it can get even worse. The question is, what can we do about it? The most important action is to submit comments by February 24.

Because of the potential impacts, the Navy is required to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to evaluate alternatives and its consequences. The process includes opportunities for citizens to comment.

The EIS began in 2013 to identify key issues. There were eight meetings including a well-attended evening on Lopez in 2014. Citizens provided over 3,600 comments. Top issues were noise and vibration, human health effects and socioeconomics (including property values). We had an impact – these issues are addressed.

The draft EIS was released in November. We believe that errors and omissions lead to an incorrect conclusion that San Juan County is not impacted. The draft is so deficient that the Navy needs to make corrections and allow further review before making a decision. This is key to changing the outcome.

One of the key weaknesses in the draft EIS is the alternatives. In fact, there are no real alternatives.

The Navy starts with the “No Action Alternative” – not adding any jets. No action must be considered under federal guidelines for an EIS. By page 2-3 the Navy concludes that “The No Action Alternative would not meet the purpose or need.” The purpose is “to augment the Navy’s existing Electronic Attack community at NAS Whidbey Island by operating additional growler aircraft as appropriated by congress.”

Right out of the gate the possibility of not expanding the growler fleet is rejected because congress already gave the Navy the money.

The draft EIS offers three action alternatives. They all add either 35 or 36 growlers. The only difference is how they are assigned to squadrons. All increase airfield operations by 47 percent (page ES-4). There are no real alternatives.

The three action alternatives are based on old technology – a manned jet that requires constant pilot training for safe carrier landing. In 2014 the Department of Defense successfully demonstrated carrier takeoff, landing and formation flying capabilities of the X-47B prototype (“drone”) that is part of the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program. See https://goo.gl/mnUPhz.

The UCLASS jets can meet the purpose and need, delivering the same capability for electronic surveillance and attack against enemy radar and communications systems as the growlers.

This alternative has many benefits. Because of automation, UCLASS jets would significantly reduce the amount of land-based training that impacts our region. It eliminates the high risk to the growler’s two-person crew from advanced anti-aircraft threats. The smaller UCLASS jet is lighter and uses less fuel. Eliminating the $3 billion purchase of 36 growlers will save taxpayer money.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said, “[the F-35] should be, and almost certainly will be, the last manned strike fighter aircraft the Department of the Navy will ever buy or fly.”

With a focused effort, the Navy can deploy the UCLASS while the existing 82 growlers plus dozens of spares carry out the mission.

If you share these concerns, it’s important for you to let the Navy know. Here are instructions on how to submit comments https://goo.gl/9FDqeh.

There will be a new article each week addressing a different issue.