In the long running legal feud between the U.S. Navy and residents of Whidbey Island over jet noise, few bon mots come as close as those written by Chief United States Magistrate Justice J. Richard Creatura.
His words underscore the need for a reset in community-Navy relations, and the opportunity for compromise.
The Navy, a presence on Whidbey Island since 1942, wants to expand the number of EA-18G “Growler” aircraft that train at its facility north of Oak Harbor.
The Growler is basically the same type of aircraft flown by the Navy’s Blue Angels aerial acrobatics team, only outfitted to jam enemy communications. As anyone knows from Seafair and the Blue Angels’ annual visit to Seattle — when they flew an older version of the plane — these jets can be ear-splittingly loud.
Thus the dispute and legal machinations.
Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve — named for a conservation area on the island — wants to relocate Growler operations somewhere else. The advocacy group, joined by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, challenged the Navy’s 2018 final environmental impact statement and 2019 record of decision expanding Growler operations at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
The Navy cherry-picked data to support its goal of increasing Growler operations, Judge Creatura wrote in a Dec. 10 report.
“The Navy did this at the expense of the public and the environment, turning a blind eye to data that would not support this intended result,” wrote Creatura. “Or, to borrow the words of noted sports analyst Vin Scully, the Navy appears to have used certain statistics ‘much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.’ ”
It wasn’t data about noise that concerned Creatura so much, but he determined Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve had rightfully raised objections to the Navy’s failure to accurately disclose greenhouse gas emissions, quantify the impacts on classroom learning, determine impacts on birds and consider an alternate training site in California.
Creatura’s report will go to U.S. District Judge Richard Jones for a final decision.
Now is a good time to hash out a compromise. The state’s congressional delegation, particularly Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, and chairperson of the House Armed Services Committee, should step in.
The Navy has deep roots in Whidbey Island, and few challenge its need for well-trained pilots. What’s more, the Navy significantly contributes to the economies of Everett and Oak Harbor.
With this judicial scolding, the Navy should rethink its approach to its critics on Whidbey Island. The service should make a good-faith effort to document the impacts of its aircraft on the community and the environment, and take steps to mitigate them.
Instead of facing off for another round in court, both sides should sit down and negotiate a compromise that serves their respective needs.
Clarification: This editorial, originally published Dec. 27, 2021, was updated on Dec. 28, 2021, to reflect that the Navy’s Blue Angels aerial acrobatics team flew an older version of the Growler during Seafair celebrations in Seattle.
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