Judge: Growler flights continue

A U.S. District Judge has ruled that jet training flights over Whidbey Island can continue even as the Navy is ordered to redo its environmental impact statement concerning the impacts of noise and emissions on the area.

In an order issued Sept. 1 in the Western District of Washington, Judge Richard Jones wrote that while the Navy under-reported the true amount of fuel emissions from flights, failed to take a hard look at species-specific impact on birds and failed to analyze impacts on childhood learning, stopping the flights would pose a risk to national security.

“The Navy’s submissions provide substantial support for the conclusion that the increased Growler presence for training at (Naval Outlying Landing Field) Coupeville is essential for national security,” Jones wrote.

“The Court must greatly defer to senior military officials’ professional judgments.”

The lawsuit centers around the noise and emissions generated by EA-18 Growler aircraft — a version of the F-18 — which are typically based on aircraft carriers.

The Coupeville airfield is located in central Whidbey Island south of Oak Harbor and about 7-and-a-half miles from Port Townsend, and residents as far away as Blyn have complained of the noise from flights, which can take place late at night.

The Navy first filed an EIS for the jet program in 2012, but litigation concerning flight operations at Coupeville date back to 1992, according to court documents.

The current lawsuit was filed in 2019 by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Citizens of Ebeys Reserve when the Navy sought to increase the number of training flights by 33 percent.

The Navy must still fix the shortcomings of its previous EIS and Record of Decision as it seeks to expand the Growler program.

“The Navy’s FEIS and ROD fell short in several respects which may need to be fully considered on remand,” Jones wrote.

However, “the Court cannot say that once the Navy considers these shortcomings that it will be able to expand the Growler program at OLF Coupeville in the same form, although it is possible.”