A Whidbey Island citizens group has revived the legal battle over noise from Navy Growler planes, filing a motion in federal court to block use of an off-base strip near Coupeville.
When the Navy’s Growler jets practice their touch-and-go training flights, Cecilia Askins pulls down sound-muffling shades and stuff chunks of foam insulation in some bedroom windows.
Still, she says the sound of the jets racing low above her Whidbey Island home has been loud enough to disrupt sleep, trigger anxiety attacks in her 6-year-old son and raise concerns about hearing damage.
“It’s like you’re underneath a racetrack of jets, a constant circle of jets ” Askins said.
Her affidavit was filed as part of a motion Monday in U.S. District Court in Seattle requesting a preliminary injunction prohibiting Naval Air Station Whidbey Island from using an airstrip south of Coupeville for Growler operations.
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The EA-18G Growlers are a big part of the Navy presence on Whidbey Island, where the military is an economic mainstay.
But since their arrival in 2008, the Growlers have spurred a bitter fight over their noise impacts as aircrews practice simulated landing on carriers.
The citizens group first filed its lawsuit over the Growler noise in July 2013. But the suit was put on hold as the Navy opted to conduct an environmental-impact study of bringing more Growlers to the island air station.
Now, the lawsuit is again active.
The citizens group wants Judge Thomas Zilly to block the Navy from all further Growler operations at the Outlying Landing Field (OLF), which abuts the Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve south of Coupeville, until completion of the environmental-impact statement.
During the interim, the Navy flight crews would be confined to using the Navy’s Ault Field, where most of the touch-and-go practice already take place.
In the motion, the Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve for a Healthy, Safe & Peaceful Environment allege that residents near the Outlying Landing Field are suffering significant health impacts that include depression, anxiety, insomnia, elevated blood pressure, anger and hearing loss.
Currently, there are 82 operational Growlers based at Whidbey Island. Their numbers could rise as high as 118 as they replace older model Prowler electronic-warfare aircraft.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit say that the Growlers create more of a noise disturbance than the older model Prowlers.
The results of an acoustic study commissioned by the plaintiffs indicated that when aircrews practice for eight hours a day, the Growler noise levels in the Admirals Cove neighborhood can exceed the standards set by the Department of Defense for its own personnel, according to the motion filed Monday.
Navy officials say their own sound analysis shows that there is no significant difference between the noise made by the older Prowlers and newer Growlers.
“The Growler is slightly, almost imperceptibly louder during arrivals, and quieter on other flight profiles,” said Ted Brown, a Navy environmental public-affairs officer.
In years past, Navy officials note the Outlying Landing Field was used with far greater frequency by the Prowlers than currently with the Growlers.
As the latest model of electronic-warfare aircraft, the Growlers can blind enemy defenses from seeing other aircraft coming in for an attack. Some of the Growlers have been used in support of the military’s air campaign in Iraq, according to Brown.
Navy officials say that the Outlying Landing Field plays an important role in helping aircrew to hone their skills, particularly at night when it more accurately simulates a darkened aircraft carrier during wartime, said Mike Welding, a Navy spokesman on Whidbey Island.
On the island, the Navy has plenty of strong support from residents who discount the complaints about the noise and are angered at the efforts to limit the flights.
Welding says he sometimes gets calls from people who are interested in real estate on the island and want to check with the Navy about jet noise. He urges them to experience it themselves, then make their decision.
The Askins have had enough of the noise. They bought their house only last year, but it is now up for sale.