NAS Whidbey open house

A Navy P-3C Orion lands behind a EA-18G Growler in November 2014 at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

ADDS information about jet noise in paragraphs 15 and 16.

The Navy announced Monday its preferred plan to bring 36 additional jets to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and to increase aircraft operations at the base.

The Navy’s plan of choice is one of 15 options included in a draft environmental impact statement (EIS), which outlines potential impacts of increasing the number of EA-18G Growler jets and related operations at the base.

While the final EIS has not been released, the Navy stated in a Monday news release its preference “provides the best training for our pilots and impacts the fewest number of residents living in the community.”

“This is what the Navy believes will work best operationally,” said Ted Brown, environmental public affairs officer with the U.S. Fleet Force Command.

The base is the home of the Navy’s Airborne Electronic Attack wing.

In 2015, the Navy retired the EA-6B Prowlers from service, replacing them with the more modern Growlers.

If the Navy’s plan is approved, the additional jets would bring the base to 118 Growlers by 2022, Brown said.

With that would come a personnel increase, he said.

The 36 additional Growlers would bring about 600 personnel plus their families to the area, Brown said. That number would be offset by the loss of a P-3 Orion squadron, bringing the net increase to 200 personnel plus family members.

If approved, the Navy’s plan would increase aircraft operations at both Ault Field, the base’s main facility, and its Outlying Landing Field (OLF) in Coupeville.

Under the proposal, the Navy estimates 88,000 aircraft operations would be held annually at Ault Field, about four times as many as would be held in Coupeville, the release states.

About 24,100 aircraft operations would be held at OLF Coupeville, according to the release. Of those, 23,700 would be field carrier landing practices, which equates to about 12,000 flights.

The Navy states OLF Coupeville is vital for training because the flat, elevated terrain and lighting conditions are similar to that of an aircraft carrier.

“The Outlying Landing Field is used almost exclusively for field carrier landing practices,” Brown said. “The training is much more realistic there.”

Some people and groups have complained that the Growlers are louder than the Prowlers they replaced, but the Navy has contended that the decibel levels are similar.

A "Fact Sheet" on the NAS Whidbey Island website indicates that, depending on conditions, there are times when each aircraft has been measured as louder than the other.

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen stated he was concerned with the increased use of OLF Coupeville, which he said is a “departure from the historical distribution of planes and flight patterns” at the base.

“The announcement of the Navy’s preferred alternative represents a significant increase in both flights and noise, particularly for areas around the outlying field in Coupeville,” Larsen said in the release.

The number of landing practice operations in the Navy’s preferred choice is less than what was projected in the draft EIS, Brown said, thanks in part to new landing gear that makes landing easier and decreases training needs.

“That makes the very difficult landing much easier and safer for our aviators and will reduce the current field carrier landing practices by at least 20 percent,” Brown said.

In addition, fewer pilots will be participating in the operations, further decreasing the number of landing practices from what was stated in the draft EIS, Brown said.

The Navy’s findings state there will be no direct adverse effects due to construction, demolition or airfield operations. The Navy also indicates there will be no indirect adverse effects due to noise-induced vibration, according to the Monday release.

It has, however, determined there would be an indirect adverse impact to the Central Whidbey Island Historic District.

In his release, Larsen said he would be demanding answers from the Navy on why and how this plan was chosen as the preferred plan.

“I will be asking why less extreme distributions were rejected, if the Navy is willing to commit to mitigation efforts and specifics on how the Navy conducted its noise monitoring,” he said.

The draft EIS contained options as to how aircraft operations would be distributed between Ault Field and OLF Coupeville and whether to increase the number of Growlers at the base by 36, 35 or none.

During the draft EIS process, Brown said, the Navy received more than 4,300 public comments, which it used to shape its final EIS.

The final EIS is expected to be released later this summer or early fall, Brown said, during which the public will be able to view it, but not comment on it.

Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer, or his representative, will then have 30 days to make a decision.

— Reporter Kera Wanielista: 360-416-2141, kwanielista@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kera_SVH, facebook.com/KeraReports

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