Grrr: Attorney General Bob Ferguson Versus the Growlers

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PHOTO: Joe A. Kunzler Photo, AvgeekJoe Productions, growlernoise-AT-gmail-DOT-com

Coupevillle – Attorney General Bob Ferguson chose a bucolic setting for his Whidbey Island fundraiser early Thursday evening, the historic Crockett Barn with its backdrop of Admiralty Inlet and Mt. Rainier majestic in the distance.  The crowd of islanders cheered Ferguson when he referenced suing the Navy over the noise of its EA–18G Growler jets.

As the AG took questions, however, Ferguson was interrupted by a sudden earsplitting roar. A Growler jet passed low overhead.  The jet circled south, made a pass over the Naval Outlying Landing Field, just south of Coupeville, and came around again.

“The Sound of Freedom” was making its presence felt in the presence of an antagonist.  “They usually come overhead in pairs, on occasions as many as four,” host Paula Spina told Ferguson during a moment when she was audible.

Sure enough, a second jet appeared, circling noisily over the Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.  The Growler is designed to fly low to jam enemy communications.  The Outlying Landing Field allows for practice of touch-and-go landings. Two years ago, the Navy approved 12,000 such practice flights, up from 3,000, with aircraft activity and the Outlying Landing Field increasing from 90 hours to 360 hours each year.

The Navy’s less noisy EA-6b Prowler jets attracted a small, vociferous but easily ignored protest. But arrival of the Growlers in 2008 — Naval Air Station Whidbey plans to expand its fleet of 82 Growlers by 36 additional jets by 2022 — has filled Coupeville High School with angry locals, plus contingents from Port Townsend and the Quimper Peninsula.  Friends of Ebey’s Landing was already going to court against the Navy when AG Ferguson stepped in.

The Navy is used to blowing off protests, all the way back to the 1950’s when U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas complained that jets bound for the Umatilla bombing range were spooking his horses with low overflights through Cascade passes. It has responded to letters from U.S. Reps. Rick Larsen and Adam Smith, D-Wash.  – Smith chairs the House Armed Services Committee – with bland defenses of its mission.  It has financed a few seismic improvements to historic structures at the national historical preserve.

In the late 1990’s, the federal base closure commission voted 4-3 to shut down Naval Air Station Alameda in California and keep open NAS Whidbey. The rationale was that the island offered less populated land, and more of it, for practice flights. 

The Growlers also make a constant aerial commute over the heart of Olympic National Park bound for two Olympic Military Operations Areas on the western peninsula.  In words of Jason Bausher, longtime seasonal ranger at the park, “The selling point of the park is silence but then you hear a Navy jet go overhead and you ask, ‘What the hell?’” Ex-Gov. Dan Evans, who has hiked the Olympics for 80-plus years, has opined: “They ought to keep it (overflights) out of the park.”

Ferguson is a tenacious sort, as the Trump administration found on the losing end of multiple lawsuits.  The AG kept talking during breaks from Growler noise, and inside the Crockett Barn when two jets made the noise level unbearable.  Filed under the National Environmental Protection Act, the state’s lawsuit charges that the Navy’s environmental impact statement ignored the Growlers’ impacts on public health and wildlife communities around Puget Sound.  The state’s case will be heard in court by a federal magistrate next month.

“I would say our odds of success are 50-50,” Ferguson told his supporters.  “The Navy is very difficult to challenge.”

Already, in letters to Reps. Larsen and Smith, the Navy has argued that the Outlying Landing Field is essential by dint of training Growler pilots and preparing them to land on aircraft carriers.  “We have a unique mission: We’re the only one that does it in the world,” Cmdr. David Harris, head of the Electronic Attack Squadron, told MyNorthwest.

The explanation has carried the day to date.  Still, the screeching noise of Growlers passing low over Coupeville and bucolic Ebey’s Landing (a unique unit of the National Park System) is hard to take.  In words of Dan Evans, a Navy vet, “Gosh, people in this area are pro-Navy, but the Navy should recognize that this is a two-way street.”

AG Ferguson held the stage at Crockett Barn, and will see the Navy in court next month.

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I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and SeattlePI.com from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.

21 COMMENTS

  1. Joel, How many law suits has Ferguson filed since he took over AG office ? Seems like he is always suing some entity protecting liberal causes…… Reminds me of a city council person.
    Or is he just a publicity hound a bit like Jayapal ?

  2. Only a deaf person would describe earsplitting noise of an EA-18G Growler jet, passing low over your community, as a “liberal cause.” The people of Coupeville are in need protecting.

    • It’s especially funny given that my argument against the flights can be boiled down to “Don’t Tread on Me”, and I’m saying it to a part of the government!

    • Thanks, how true! Citizens of Oak Harbor, the surrounding areas in the San Juan Islands and the Olympic National Park all need protection from this menace.

  3. OK so, if as that deaf person, am I to assume you feel that the AG (probably the next Gov) can do no wrong. That the USN should relocate its’ bases inland to unwatered / unpopulated areas.

    Just answer my question if you can – How many ?

  4. Having these jets fly low over your home is like being next to someone who is screaming at you….for hours and maybe days. No one sane loves that, likes that or thinks that’s ok. When the jets fly you have to go indoors and even then you can not hear the person speaking sitting next to you. Teachers at school have to stop teaching while they fly and the sick in our hospitals have noise to keep them awake and on edge. Coupeville has grown much since the Navy first started flying here. The Navy wanted to pull out of here once before telling me they can easily train elsewhere. The OLF is too short a runway by their own admission and flying over our homes is dangerous. The Navy has not been a good neighbor and putting a heavier load on this island and it’s people is unreasonable. Would anyone buy a CD of jet noise? My point is that no one loves jet noise. People love their job, their country, their families, their home and their animals. It’s time to put an end to this small community having to take all these hits from the Navy.

    • Agree…….But you can’t move into an area with a base and then complain about the base activity. If you move across the street from a school and the noise level bothers you, can you ask the school to stop the activity, much less move ??

      • Perhaps you ought to re-read the article again. Growlers are new to Whidbey NAS. And the Navy only recently quadrupled the number of “missions” the Growlers are allowed to pollute the region. Most of the 70,000 residents of Whidbey Island lived there long before the Growlers.

        • MY Main POINT was the AG’s propensity to sue on behalf of liberal issues worldwide, as long as it made a splash. The fact that the base has been there prior to most of the residence, was sort of a play to NIMBYism……

      • The Navy changed the planes(these are much louder) and the number of yearly flights…check the terrifying new flight schedule. I think people can show some tolerance, but not when we are lied to by the people whom we support I get angry. Moving next to a school logic only works if the school remains the same.

        • Agree in part, but offer another question, what is your stand on conversions of neighborhood apartments to homeless/rehab housing (as is happening in Redmond) ? The units’ use changed so therefore should not be allowed ?

          • Change is inevitable. We should change to help people and to be better humans. The noise increase is not helping the community that is impacted by the noise. I’m sure it’s lining some pockets though. Unless we suffer a nuclear attack where we all lose…the US HAS way more war toys than necessary. I think someone told me once we have 14 times more than all other countries combined. I can’t substantiate that but I feel confident we spend way to much on the military rather than housing, healthcare and climate change.

      • Many, many people lived here before the Navy and Coupeville, along with Central Whidbey, was a well settled community well before the Growlers. Secondly, knowing that the military was here before SOME people moved here is a weak argument. When they fly at the base I would say that most complainers in Central Whidbey do not complain. The jets flying on the base is, at least, reasonable, but practicing “touch and goes” on an outdated (1942), too short strip, next to the only major highway on the Island, in the middle of a populated area by young, practicing pilots is beyond any reasonable compromise. The Growlers need to go and the Coupeville Outlying Field needs too close

  5. I wonder how many jobs could be discovered and started in this beautiful area where we live? Many small communities survive without the support of the Navy. Whidbey could reinvent itself to be a healthy, thriving community without jet noise.

    • You mean Port Townsend South with that small town ‘Artsy Feel’ ? That would be nice for you .

      Wish I could change my neighborhood back from the drug usage, porch pirates, and dropped out generation which has become Seattle.

      • Yes Port Townsend is a gem. There is drug usage, porch pirates and vagrants who refuse to work on Whidbey too and it is getting worse. I am in a rural area and have had package deliveries vanish. Someone has thrown a fire extinguisher through a plate glass window in one house and shot bullets through another window. Nothing is safe and why do vagrants who cannot afford to maintain a decent lifestyle come to Whidbey? Can’t they be given work and responsiblity improving the community as has been done in Albuquerque with success?

    • YES! The navy has kept Whidbey from maintaining the lifestyle of the days before 1942. Whidbey was a close knit community everyone took care of the needs of others.

  6. I was at this fund raiser. Sat in a chair in the front row. A man looking for a seat came and sat one seat away from me. It was Joel Connelly, had no clue who he was as I have lived in Floriduh for a while, what an interesting person! Perfect performance by the navy there is no way anyone can possibly understand the torture residents of Whidbey Island experience from Navy Growlers deafening noise without being present during their loud invasive flights. The navy has a habit of flying just in time for dinner and time for most residents to retire for the day disrupting sleep. PERFECT! Now our outstanding Attorney General Bob Ferguson has experienced and knows exactly why we can no longer tolerate Growler flights at all hours of the day and night. There is deep concern for our wild life. How many Orcas has the navy killed as noise is intensified in the water their habitat? Think of the atmospheric pollution from way too many Growlers. Our drinking water is contaminated with PFAS. People affiliated with the navy tell us if we don’t like it we can move. Where is there another location like Whidbey Island? Why should we leave when we have lived here for generations. My family has lived on Whidbey since 1911, other neighbors have lived here since 1840. How long have navy families lived here that expect longtime residents to move?

    • Sounds like you want this base to move ; the base was commissioned in 1942 . Do the other naval installations on Puget Sound need to move also ?

      • YES many citizens want the base to close. NASWI reservation was on the BRAC list to be deactivated until Mayor Koetje used public funds to lobby the military to keep it active. Of course I know NASWI was commissioned in 1942. My Grandparents waterfront land they owned since 1924 on West Beach was seized. My Grandfather sued to prevent the seizure of his land in Judge Boldt’s court losing the lawsuit. The government was slow to pay. This land was and continues to be used for navy recreation. All military bases are a threat to our fragile ecosystem with their toxic pollution and loud noise. Water run off containing toxic jet fuel and PFAS from NASWI flows into Dugualla Bay contaminating the water.

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