The U.S. Navy began the first of five public meetings at Port Townsend today, in order to roll out their new “draft” Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to expand the use of the Whidbey Island Airbase. The airbase is primarily used for carrier and expeditionary (land based wings) training of cadets. A group of approximately 40 protesters sat in a silent protest during the event. While police looked on, no arrests were made nor was their anything other than a peaceful sit down protest.
The Navy is no longer asking for any lowering of cadet training, and in fact is looking to expand by 35 or 36 aircraft. Personnel increases range in the proposals from 371 to 664, with an expected expansion of dependents (family) of 509 to 710). They are planning to increase operations/year from 88,000 to 130,000 an increase of 33%. One thing to understand that was explained to me by Ted Brown, the Installations and Public Affairs Officer for the Navy, is that these operations actually need to be divided by 2 to more clearly understand them. A jet taking over and do a touch and go is engaging in a minimum of 2 operations. However, this increase in the levels takes us from a low range where we have been since approx 1996 to a much higher level, more closely aligned to the levels leading up to the first Gulf War (1976-1988).
The more problematic issue of all this is that the Navy will be impacting many more people with noise levels at or above 65dB. To put this in perspective, 65dB is considered “normal” level of talking to someone at 3′. However, we are talking about jet aircraft noise and not human voices. Hearing loss can occur at sustained levels above 85dB. A navy aircraft sound print lasts approx. 30 seconds usually peaking at 93.5 dBs and sustained above 80 for most of that 30 seconds. In the summer, I routinely am roused out of sleep after 12 midnight by jets taking off and landing 16. 2 nautical miles away from my house. That qualifies for what the navy calls sleep disturbance but it does not track that from my distance, so any of us affected by this are not included in their calculations.
The Navy assumes that in our area of Port Townsend, we can expect noise levels capable of affecting speech comprehension inside an additional 4 times an hour. Outdoor events would increase up to an additional 3 events per hour.
Events that the Navy expects to be so loud as to disturb indoor classroom activity is expect to increase by 2 events per hour.
Sleep disturbance events between 10PM and 7AM are expected to increase up to 48% in some locations.
It is also worth noting that the Navy primarily flies these during times when the aircraft carriers are in port. They have a window of opportunity and the pilots also need to achieve night flight status. This means that with darkness falling later and later, they end up spilling into the later evening. So expect more noise late in the summer, and with more planes, it will only get worse.
There is a hope on the horizon, much longer out, in that the touch and goes are now in the early phases of having a onboard computer fly the plane with greatly increased safety, and less wear and tear on the plane and flight deck. At some point, we may see a dramatic decrease in touch and goes, as computers take over that function, decreasing training on it. Newer F-35s have the ability installed but older ones do not. The software is not yet operational though, being in testing now.
What can be done about the intrusion into our peaceful surroundings? There is a no action alternative, that the Navy isn’t seriously considering, but should be proposed in writing by anyone concerned about this growth. However, don’t expect the Navy to choose this. If you are planning to contact any of our Congressmen or Senators, you might as well push for it. That’s the only way you will protect yourself and your family from increased unmuffled jet noise.
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