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Navy proposes increased Growler jet airspace extension over Methow Valley

Background:  


There are currently 118 Navy EA-18G Growler jets in the U.S.  They are all sited on Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, WA (NASWI). They are some of the world’s loudest jets — the same type as Blue Angels jets.  The Navy conducts their training operations for these jets directly over homes, hospitals, parks, schools, protected lands, wildlife and endangered species habitat across northern Washington. The Navy is proposing increasing the impact of jet noise in the Methow Valley.


Prior to 2018, the Growlers on Whidbey Island conducted approximately 6,400 FCLP (Flight Carrier Landing Practice/touch-and-go) operations per year at their Outlying Landing Field in Coupeville. In 2018, the Navy began an increase in training operations to four-fold, from 6,400 to 24,000 a year and added 36 Growlers to the base over the objections of the community. The impacts of the Growlers now extend from the Olympic peninsula to the Methow Valley and beyond to the rest of Okanogan County, the Colville Reservation, and east to the Idaho border.


In 2023, a federal judge ruled that the Navy violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by conducting an insufficient Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as justification for adding the additional jet flights and operations to Whidbey Island. The Navy has been ordered by the courts to redo their EIS; however, they were not given a timeline to do so nor were they required to decrease flights and operations to pre-2018 levels. After reconsideration, the Navy was given one year to complete the new EIS. The Navy has now appealed this order.  


The court documents indicate the need for vigilance and accountability in public processes. In the aforementioned case, the judge stated: “Here, despite a gargantuan administrative record, covering nearly 200,000 pages of studies, reports, comments, and the like, the Navy selected methods of evaluating the data that supported its goal of increasing Growler operations. 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. 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.’”


Despite the judge’s ruling, the Navy, working in cooperation with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), has prepared a Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) to evaluate the potential environmental impacts associated with a proposed military training airspace extension in northeastern Washington. This proposal would establish a new military training airspace by the FAA in northeastern Washington state adjacent to and west of existing military training airspace, to be identified as the Okanogan D Military Operations Area (MOA) and the overlying Mazama Air Traffic Control Assigned Airspace (ATCAA). The total area of the airspace extension would be approximately 393 square nautical miles. The proposal includes an extension of the horizontal and vertical area and a minor redistribution of where training flights occur within the overall airspace.


Talking points: 


  • The Navy has been ordered by the federal court to complete a new Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the NASWI expansion on four counts: 1) impact on classroom learning; 2) disclosure of the basis for greenhouse gas emissions calculations; 3) species-specific impacts on birds; 4) detailed consideration of an El Centro, California, alternative. Until the new EIS is completed, the Navy should not be considering a military training airspace extension in Washington State. 

  • The Navy has been ordered by the court to consider an El Centro alternative for the Growlers to train — as the Navy has not completed this order, this is not the time to allow the Navy to consider expanding the military training airspace in Washington State.

  • We must demand a complete EIS for the proposed airspace extension, not an internal Navy assessment (EA) which requires no accountability to the communities impacted.

  • During the past 10 years, the Navy has consistently rejected the “No Action” alternative decisions on proposals to the public. The public must demand “No Action” until an EIS is completed. The Navy must be held accountable. 

  • Like Whidbey Island, the Methow Valley has significant reliance on tourism as an economic driver. Increased jet noise may have significant economic, environmental, and community health implications for the Methow Valley.

  • The Navy deflects critical analysis of jet noise impacts, specifically in regards to harm to both human and environmental health:


  • Growler jet noise has been reported between 70 dB - 130 dB at people’s homes. Research on the impact of noise has found that noise between 40-55 dB can harm human mental health, concentration, memory, and cognition. Sound levels above 55 dB are associated with serious cardiovascular health effects, including hypertension, stroke, and risk of heart disease. Research has also found that noise can cause wildlife to change their behavior, heighten stress, and even have fewer offspring. 


  • With respect to the impact of this increased operations on childhood learning, the Navy acknowledged numerous studies that concluded that aircraft noise would measurably impact learning but then arbitrarily concluded that because it could not quantify exactly how the increased operations would interfere with childhood learning, no further analysis was necessary. 


  • The Navy has repeatedly stated that increased noise would have species-specific impacts on the many bird species in the affected area. Yet, they continue to decline doing species-specific research. Instead, the Navy simply concluded that certain species were not adversely affected and then extrapolated that all the other species would not be affected. 


The asks: 


  1. Please join us in advocating with our elected officials and the Navy to demand “No Action” on this proposal until a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is completed under the guidelines of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for this latest airspace extension request for the Navy’s EA-18G Growlers to train over more of northeast Washington. NEPA is a law that requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions and to provide opportunities for public review and comment. This process provides legal and Congressional accountability to the public, whereas an Environmental Assessment (EA) does not.


  1. The FAA has the final approval for any airspace changes to military aircraft (MOA’s). The FAA should not approve any airspace changes without first requiring the Navy to follow the law and its obligation to a current federal court order to examine El Centro as an alternative training facility prior to allowing any expansion of new airspace in northeastern Washington state (that would be identified as the Okanogan D Military Operations Area (MOA) and the overlying Mazama Air Traffic Control Assigned Airspace (ATCAA).



Please sign up to submit comments and join one or both of the Navy’s virtual public meetings on the extension proposal.


Public meeting dates:


Feb 13th from 3:00-4:00 PM: https://mantech.zoomgov.com/j/1611284707

Feb 15th from 6:00-7:00 PM: https://mantech.zoomgov.com/j/1616638848


Comments must be postmarked or received electronically by 11:59 p.m. PST on Feb. 23, 2024, for consideration in the Final EA. Comments may be submitted by email to navfac-nw-NEPA@us.navy.mil or via postal mail to:


Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Northwest, Attention: Code EV23, 1101 Tautog Circle, Silverdale, WA 98315.


Read the Draft EA for the proposed extension HERE.

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