Quieting the Skies

An EA-18G Growler pilot practices aircraft carrier landings at Outlying Field near Coupeville on Whidbey Island. / U.S. Navy photo from “Journal of the San Juan Islands,” 3-13-19

As I continue my mini-break, I’m using today’s post to celebrate some good news close to home. Earlier this month, Federal Magistrate J. Richard Creatura determined that the U.S. Navy’s 2019 decision authorizing the EA-18G “Growler” expansion at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NASWI) violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The judge’s decision came in response to lawsuits filed by the Washington State Attorney General and Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve (COER). They argued the Navy “violated the National Environmental Policy Act by not adequately analyzing the impacts an increased number of the Navy aircraft would have on the environment and the community.”

Whidbey Island is not far from the south end of Lopez Island, and the noise from “Growler” practices there reaches my home, and others in the San Juan Islands, on a regular basis. That’s why residents here formed Quiet Skies Over San Juan County. You can read their account about the magistrate’s decision here.

Peninsula Daily News reported the decision, too, and it’s worth the read. Here are some choice excerpts from the news story:

The Navy did this at the expense of the public and the environment, turning a blind eye to data that would not support this intended result,” [Creatura] wrote. Or, to borrow the words of noted sports analyst Vin Scully, the Navy appears to have used certain statistics “much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.”

Attorney General Bob Ferguson sent the Whidbey News-Times a comment about the decision also.

“The Navy has an important job, and it’s critical that their pilots and crews have the opportunity to train,” he wrote. “That does not relieve the federal government of its obligation to follow the law and take a hard look at any harm to child learning and natural resources. Today the magistrate judge recognized that the Navy fell far short of its obligation.”

You can read more about Creatura’s ruling in a recent COER blog post, or read the judge’s report and recommendations here.

There’s much more to write about the Growlers’ threat to the environment, and I plan to do that in the coming year.  If you’re not familiar with the issue, this video offers a good overview.

Ebey’s Reserve video about OLF Whidbey from Melissa Young and Mark Dworkin on Vimeo.

I’ll be watching how the Navy responds (the deadline for their reaction to the magistrate’s opinion is coming up) and what happens as a result of his requirement for an analysis of other locations for the Growlers.


  1. Hooray!

    On Wed, Dec 29, 2021, 6:00 AM Iris Graville – Author wrote:

    > Iris Graville posted: ” An EA-18G Growler pilot practices aircraft carrier > landings at Outlying Field near Coupeville on Whidbey Island. / U.S. Navy > photo from “Journal of the San Juan Islands,” 3-13-19 As I continue my > mini-break, I’m using today’s post to celebrate some g” >

  2. Iris, thanks so much for reporting on this bit of good, sensible news. It is interesting that one of the deficits the judge found was a failure to assess the impact of the Growler noise pollution on the the education of local children. During the NEPA process, the Lopez Island School District Board did submit a concern about how Growler noise was impacting our children. As well we requested that the Navy study the issue. The resulting Navy NEPA document to our read brushed off the concern and request with vague references to general noise levels that children live with every day. So it is quite heartening to read that the Magistrate found this disregard of a very legitimate concern and request to be one of the failings of the study. Not sure how many other school districts submitted similar concerns and requests, but sure am glad we did!

    1. I’m glad Lopez Island School District submitted a letter, too, John – thank you. Who knows, it might have made it to the Magistrate and influenced his decision. We rarely know if our speaking out has an impact, but I believe we must keep doing it. Your comment, and this report, inspire me to use my pen (or keyboard) to speak truth to power. Thanks for reading!

  3. I worked with the law firm to develop the testimony for the climate part of the COER lawsuit that found that the Navy mis-stated their actual greenhouse gas emissions by more than a factor of 2. You can see the Magistrate’s favorable response to this part of the lawsuit starting on page 10 of the summary recommendation: http://tiny.cc/GrowlerMagistrateRec

    1. Wow, thanks for this reference, Chris, and for your work for COER. What do you think the chances are that the Navy will make changes to protect the environment and residents?

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