Congressman Larsen, local leaders demand more public input on Growlers

EA-18G Growlers of VAQ-130 return to Whidbey Island Naval Air Station after deployment abroad. Congress is still developing a budget that may include the funding for more Growlers. - Photo by Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times
EA-18G Growlers of VAQ-130 return to Whidbey Island Naval Air Station after deployment abroad. Congress is still developing a budget that may include the funding for more Growlers.
— image credit: Photo by Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times

Congressman Rick Larsen, Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard and Commissioner Helen Price Johnson released a statement Monday asking the Navy to gather additional public input on the basing of EA-18G Growlers.

The Navy announced last month that they are reconsidering the number of Growlers that would be based at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, which could affect the Environmental Impact Statement started last year.

The Navy said Monday that any changes to the Growler basing options would automatically include additional public input.

The Growlers, based exclusively at NAS Whidbey, have been the target of noise complaints by a group of residents who claim the electronic attack aircraft are louder and more disruptive than its predecessors, among them the EA-6B Prowler.

“We’ve listened to our constituents, and it is clear that any change to the number of Growlers on Whidbey Island will impact this community and their interactions with the base,” the joint statement said. “We know our constituents will want to engage with the Navy in this process to discuss community impacts and to propose potential mitigation options.”

Larsen, who is up for reelection this year, said Monday that he isn’t aware of the procedures surrounding basing shifts during an EIS, but said he is glad to hear the Navy would be allowing the community another chance to comment if changes occur.

He added that he and the other local leaders were simply responding to constituent’s concerns.

“There are people who are paid to know a lot more about the process than I am,” Larsen said. “What’s important is that constituents are informed well in advance so people can participate.”

The Navy has put in an as-yet unfunded request for 22 additional Growlers for the 2015 federal budget, but if and how those aircraft will be funded hasn’t been decided by Congress.

Larsen said that his assessment, based on discussions in both House and Senate arm services and appropriations committees, is that the final number approved will land in the mid-teens.

“It won’t be zero and it won’t be 22,” Larsen said.

In an emailed statement, Price Johnson said that, while it is unclear how many planes Congress will fund, “We do know that further increasing the number of Growlers based at NASWI will have impacts locally.

“So it is vital that local residents be given this opportunity to participate in the expanded scoping of this process,” Price Johnson said.

“I appreciate Congressman Larsen and Mayor Conard’s collaboration. By working together we can more effectively advocate for our community.”

If Congress chooses to include additional Growlers in their Whidbey Island basing strategy, a rescoping period, complete with additional public comment, would be required, according to Ted Brown, Navy’s Installations and Environmental public affairs officer.

Brown said that the Navy will likely make an announcement regarding the EIS within the next few months.

Including new alternatives in the EIS will likely require re-scoping of the project and push out the completion date, the Navy’s July announcement said.

Citizen’s of Ebey’s Reserve, or COER, which sued the Navy last year over the jet noise, released a statement last week denouncing the additional Growlers and the EIS delays.

“It is unreasonable for the Navy to expect local civilian communities in four counties to wait longer than originally promised for a draft EIS initiated in 2013 while the Navy continues to conduct Growler operations over those affected communities,” the COER release said.

“Preferably, all Growler operations should be suspended until the completion of the EIS process.”

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