Rumbling jets shake up Saanich’s Ten Mile Point

Increasing U.S. Navy jet traffic at Ault Field in Oak Harbour, Wash. causing headaches for some Saanich residents

Residents along east-facing waterfront properties in Greater Victoria continue to be disrupted by rumbling from Boeing EA-18G Growler jet take-offs and landings (pictured above) at Whidbey Island’s Ault Field across the Juan de Fuca Strait. The U.S. Navy is completing an environmental impact report as it plans to increase by 36 the number of Growlers assigned to Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 129 at the naval air station by 2018.

A group of homeowners from Saanich’s Ten Mile Point are hoping their concerns will be heard by the U.S. Navy during the consultation process over bringing additional EA-18 Growler jets at the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

“The extreme end of it is when jets swing too close to (Ten Mile Point) our houses shake and car alarms are set off,” said Graham Payette, who’s family lives near the tip of Ten Mile Point on Baynes Road.

It happens with enough frequency that Payette wonders if the Navy could release a schedule detailing the exercises, and if there’s anything that can be done to mitigate the impact.

“Our neighbourhood group wasn’t aware of the (Navy’s) call for input until the last day, and some of us managed to get some input in, but not all of us,” Payette said.

“We want to create more awareness and to be included in the assessment process, not just on the residential impact but environmental as well. If it sets off car alarms, we we want to know how this resinates with the resident orca of the Southern Island.”

Whidbey Island Navy spokesperson Ted Brown is running an environmental impact consultation process as the base, situated across the waters of the Juan de Fuca Strait, is gradually replacing the 1970’s era EA-6B Prowlers with the Boeing EA-18G electronic warfare aircraft, or Growlers.

Brown said the initial public consultation window, which is now closed, will re-open in about 2016 to allow amendments to the first draft of the environmental impact report which he is now working on.

It’s the naval air station’s third environmental review in 10 years. It studies noise and other impacts from thousands of landings and takeoffs conducted at Ault Field near Oak Harbor, Wash. and the Outlying Landing Field near Coupeville, Wash. The consultation is prompted by the addition of 13 more EA-18s and a contract to train Australian pilots on the planes at NAS Whidbey.

Prior reviews were environmental assessments; this EIS is more extensive and is conducted under the more strict National Environmental Protection Act standards and rules.

The perception of increased noise and increased frequency of operations has generated more local complaints on Whidbey Island, and a citizen’s group called Citizens of the Ebey’s Reserve for a Healthy, Safe & Peaceful Environment filed a lawsuit against the Navy in July. The Navy suspended training flights for six months in 2013, but resumed them this month.

NAS Whidbey is a busy place. Last year, according to information supplied by the base, flight operations at Ault Field numbered close to 74,000, which includes every departure, landing and engine test. Field Carrier Landing Practices, often referred to as “touch and goes,” numbered more than 15,000 at Ault Field and under 7,000 at OLF Coupeville in 2013. The number of EA-18s increased to 79 in 2014 and will increase to 92 in 2018. By 2016, all EA-6B Prowlers will be retired.

“I’m a supporter of what they’re doing, Payette said. “I’m hoping there’s some type of schedule, it’s the exercises, the carrier landings and night flights when it’s most disruptive, a three-hour period of takeoffs and landings. My guess is the jets are circling over the strait to hit the landing when they swing near us.”

– with files from Steve Wherly, Journal of the San Juan Islands

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