By JAMES CASEY
Peninsula Daily News
SEQUIM — Residents came to gripe about noise from Navy Growlers this week, and City Council members agreed.
The council plans to solicit comments on a Navy plan for electronic warfare training and a separate plan to add more EA-18G Growler jets to the Naval Air Station at Whidbey Island.
It plans to conduct a public meeting — and to especially invite the Navy.
The invitation will come sometime after Feb. 20.
That's the day council members will attend a meeting with representatives of the Navy and the Jamestown S'Klallam tribe on a Navy proposal to fly EA-18G Growler jets from NAS Whidbey Island across the Olympic Peninsula and over the Pacific Coast during electronic training.
Francisco de La Cruz urged council members at their Monday meeting to contact authorities in San Juan and Island counties that are overflown by the Growlers to ask real estate agents about property values there and to inquire whether civic celebrations must be planned around flight schedules.
Bob Sextro, who lives on Kitchen-Dick Road, also urged a public meeting, saying Olympic National Park already receives complaints from visitors about low-flying Navy jets.
Councilwoman Genaveve Starr and resident Ruth Marcus both said Growler flights shake their houses now.
Township Line Road resident Ron Richards said the Navy's environmental assessment of the training flights “are a disaster. They simply do not comply with the National Environmental Protection Act.
“The only question is, 'Navy, will you do the correct environmental impact statement?'”
To train pilots in electronic warfare, the Navy seeks a Forest Service special-use permit to allow access to 15 logging-road sites in Olympic National Forest.
The public comment period has closed on that proposal. A decision is expected by the middle of this year at the earliest.
The Navy plans to disperse on the roads three camper-sized Navy vehicles with emitters. A fourth emitter would be at a fixed site at the Navy base at Pacific Beach.
The trucks, equipped with antennas mounted 14 feet off the ground, would emit electromagnetic radiation as part of simulated targeting exercises performed by Whidbey Naval Air Station pilots trying to locate the emitters' electronic signatures.
According to the Navy, the planes would fly at altitudes above 10,000 feet, but de La Cruz said they would fly much lower, taking off and returning to NAS Whidbey Island.
The Navy also plans, in a separate proposal, to add up to 36 EA-18G Growler jets to the 82 currently based at NAS Whidbey Island “to support an expanded Department of Defense mission for identifying, tracking and targeting in a complex electronic warfare environment,” according to the description at www.whidbeyeis.com.
The public comment period on that proposal also has closed.
Sequim City Attorney Craig Ritchie said the city had no recourse to challenge the Navy's environmental assessment but could take citizen comments and forward them to the Navy and the other federal agencies involved: the Department of Agriculture, parent of the U.S. Forest Service, and Department of the Interior, which includes the National Park Service.
Council members Ken Hays, Laura Dubois, Dennis Smith and Starr all supported the idea of calling a public meeting, as did Mayor Candace Pratt.
Councilman Erik Erichsen said he had heard nothing about the controversy until Monday night.
He agreed, however, with the others that the Navy should be encouraged to attend.
“I don't want another session in which the public comes to tell us that they're unhappy. I support the motion only if the Navy is the invited along with other people,” he said.
“If they're not here, we don't have the meeting.”
But Smith said: “We really do need to open this up. This public relations effort on the part of the Navy has just been an abomination. If they don't show up, that kind of speaks for itself.”
Reporter James Casey can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org