State and community organizations wanted money for soundproofing and other efforts to reduce the impacts of a big increase in EA-18G Growler flights over central Whidbey Island.
The Navy has terminated talks with state and local groups about easing the impacts of expanding EA-18G Growler jet training over a central Whidbey Island historic district.
A Navy statement Friday cited a “fundamental difference of opinion” on what should be done to reduce the noise and other adverse effects of the training flights.
The breakdown of talks is the latest sign of a bitter divide between the Navy and many residents of the rural central part of the island who fiercely oppose plans to quadruple, in the years ahead, the number of Growler flights over the Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve.
State officials also took issue with the Navy. They joined with local groups in declining to sign a proposed memorandum of agreement.
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“It is most unfortunate that the efforts of our Department, the Ebey’s Historical Reserve Trust Board and the local community … were summarily rejected,” wrote Allyson Brooks, the state’s historic-preservation officer in a Nov. 29 letter to the commanding officer of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
Navy officials, in a document posted online, detailed a series of offers and counteroffers during the last five months.
“We really tried very hard,” said Kendall Campbell, a Navy cultural-resource manager.
The Navy, under the National Historic Preservation Act, had to consult with the state and local groups over how more Growler flights would affect the district that encompasses the 17,000-acre Ebey’s Landing area. But it was not required to reach an agreement.
With the talks now over, the Navy will be able to finalize the decision to make the big increase in the low-flying training flights as crews conduct touch-and-go exercises at the Outlying Field Coupeville.
The Whidbey Island Naval Air Station is home to the nation’s Growler aircraft, which jam communication and launch systems and play a leading role in the military’s electromagnetic warfare.
Their footprint in Washington state will grow as the Navy adds up to 36 Growlers to the fleet of 82 aircraft now based at the air station on the north end of Whidbey Island by Oak Harbor. The Navy also will renovate facilities as it brings in more personnel who will live at the base and in surrounding island communities.
The Navy has conducted a lengthy environmental review of the expansion, and launched the negotiations with state officials and local residents over the impacts on the historic district of Ebey’s Landing. A trust board manages this unit of the National Park Service in a partnership with the town of Coupeville, Island County and Washington State Parks.
Several hundred buildings lie within Ebey’s Landing, including historic homes occupied by island residents. The state initially proposed that the Navy commit up to $8 million, which would include funds for soundproofing homes, sensors to track the noise and stabilization of some historic buildings, according to Brooks, the state official.
That proposal was scaled back as negotiations progressed. But it still called for considerably more money than the Navy’s final offer, which involved spending up to $1 million for preservation projects, mainly to restore the Ferry House at Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.
“It was frustrating. Ultimately we have to listen to the community, and the community was feeling that was just not adequate,” Brooks said.
A Navy document said the spending plan should focus on the historic district. So, the Navy would not accept some of the proposals that called for money to be spent outside of that area and address broader community concern.
Maryon Attwood, president of the Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve, said she met last week with Gov. Jay Inslee about the Growler expansion. She was glad the state did not sign on to the document.
“The Navy is unwilling to negotiate in good faith, and the people recognize this for what it is,” Attwood said.
It is still unclear just what projects the Navy will fund to comply with the federal Historic Preservation Act.
In the weeks ahead, the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation will conduct a review, and make its own comments about what the Navy should do, according to Campbell, the Navy cultural-resource manager.
The Navy will take those suggestions under consideration but doesn’t have to follow them, according to Campbell.