Navy loses court battle with Whidbey Island environmental organizations and Washington State.

In a dramatic conclusion to a long running court battle over the expansion of the Whidbey Island Naval Base, the District Court of Washington Judge Richard Creatura has forced the Navy to sit down with State’s Attorney General office and the environmental groups led by Citizen’s of the Ebey’s Reserve (COER) and Paula Spina, to forge an agreement to satisfy some of the issues raised by the environmental groups. The judge was scathing in his findings against the Navy’s work in their Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). His language could not be more clear,”the Navy appears to have used certain statistics “‘much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.’ “

Whidbey Island Naval Base

While the groups did not win all their demands, they won what likely will be the most critical issues. Here is a condensed version of the judge’s findings. I cannot improve on his language.

Plaintiffs challenge the Navy’s 2018 final environmental impact statement (“FEIS”) and 2019 record of decision authorizing t he expansion of EA-18G “Growler” aircraft operations at the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (“NASWI”) under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), the National Historic Preservation Act (“NHPA”), These statutes mandate a procedure that an agency must follow before taking an action as significant as the Growler expansion at NASWI.

Under NEPA and the APA, the Navy’s decision may be overturned if the Navy acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” and failed to take a “hard look” at the consequences of the proposed action.

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.”


When reporting on the environmental impact of Growler fuel emissions, the Navy underreported the true amount of Growler fuel emissions and failed to disclose that it was not including any emissions for flights above 3,000 feet. Even after receiving a comment on the issue, the Navy failed to disclose its underreporting and dismissed the issue with broad generalities.


With respect to the impact of this increased operation 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.

As to the impact of increased jet noise on various bird species, the Navy repeatedly stated that increased noise would have species-specific impacts on the many bird species in the affected area but then failed to conduct a species-specific analysis to determine if some species would be more affected than others. Instead, the Navy simply concluded that certain species were not adversely affected and then extrapolated that all the other species would not be affected, either.


Regarding evaluating reasonable alternatives to the Growler expansion at NASWI, which the Navy was required to do, the Navy rejected moving the Growler operations to El Centro, California out of hand, summarily concluding that such a move would cost too much and that moving the operation to that location would have its own environmental challenges. The Navy’s cursory rationale was arbitrary and capricious and does not provide a valid basis to reject the El Centro alternative.


For these reasons, the Court recommends that the District Court find the FEIS violated the NEPA and grant all summary judgment motions in part and deny them in part. Also, the Court grants plaintiffs leave to submit extra record evidence to address certain issues. Assuming the District Court follows this recommendation, it should order supplemental briefing regarding the appropriate remedy for the NEPA violations described herein.

This blog has argued for years that the only way to stop environmental degradation is with lawsuits. Once again, as we have seen against the aquaculture industry and the Army Corps of Engineers, the legal system continues to be the last bastion of hope against the flood of money, hubris, greed and incompetence that continue to attempt (and sometimes succeed) and permeate many of our public funded agencies. Our politicians so rarely step up and stand up to these agencies, leaving it up to us to fund and fight them. To those supporters of the Navy base, including both Democrats and Republicans, it’s clear that the Navy did not do it’s job, nor did it consider moving the base, which the judge said should have been considered. The environmental argument is not anti-navy, it’s pro environment.

Thanks to Attorney General Bob Ferguson for taking a very hard stand against a very large foe. And thanks to COER for their never ending optimism in this battle. They have not won the war, but a significant battle for protection of our environment.

The actual judge’s findings are here:

https://citizensofebeysreserve.us5.list-manage.com/track/click?u=bb176b9f46ee71c04272e9f33&id=44766c27d8&e=cc55e62a2d

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