WHIDBEY ISLAND – A federal judge has ruled in favor of the state attorney general’s office and a Whidbey noise group in several critical issues in a lawsuit involving the EA-18G Growler plane parked at the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.
United States Chief Justice J. Richard Creatura filed the report and recommendation in the case on Friday. Parties have 14 days to file written objections.
In 2019, the state attorney general and the citizens of the Ebey reserve (COER) filed separate lawsuits, which were then consolidated into one, in the U.S. District Court.
They argued that the Navy violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other federal laws by failing to adequately analyze the impacts that an increased number of Navy aircraft would have on the environment and the community.
Creatura did not fire any punches in his report, writing that the Navy had selected data assessment methods that supported its goal of bringing more Growlers to NAS Whidbey.
“The Navy did this to the detriment of the public and the environment, turning a blind eye to data that would not support the intended outcome,” he wrote.
“Or, to borrow the words of famous sports analyst Vin Scully, the Navy appears to have used some statistics” much like a drunkard uses a lamppost: for support, not for lighting. ”
Attorney General Bob Ferguson sent the Whidbey News-Times a comment on the decision on Friday evening.
“The Navy has an important job and it is essential that its pilots and crew have the opportunity to train,” he wrote.
“This does not relieve the federal government of its obligation to obey the law and carefully examine any harm to children’s learning and natural resources. Today, the examining magistrate recognized that the Navy was far from its obligation.
Port Townsend Mayor Michelle Sandoval said she was “grateful for the diligence and tenacity of the COER and grateful to Fergerson for taking charge of this important quality of life issue.
Port Townsend officials have been involved in Growler’s noise problem since 2012, she noted.
“The City of Port Townsend continued to require the Navy to use accurate noise monitoring data and to comply with Historic Preservation Act protocol. We initially didn’t even get a chance to comment on Growler’s expansion, as the Navy claimed their computer models indicated Port Townsend was unaffected by increased flights and louder noise from aircraft. jets, ”Sandoval said.
For those who say the Navy was here a long time ago, Sandoval continued, “The Prowlers were the jets that flew from Whidbey. The Growlers are newer in our area and their loud noise and increased thefts have caused a lot of consternation in our community.
“I hope that the outcome of the decision will not only be relief from the damage to people and natural resources, but that Olympic National Park, known as the quietest place on the planet, continues to be so. “, she added.
Specifically, Creatura discovered that the Navy violated NEPA by not disclosing the basis for the greenhouse gas emissions calculations; fail to quantify the impact of increased operations on classroom learning; not carefully considering the species-specific impacts on birds; and not having examined in detail the idea of moving certain operations to the base in El Centro, California.
“Regarding the impact of this increased operation on children’s learning,” Creatura wrote, “the Navy acknowledged numerous studies which concluded that aircraft noise would have a measurable impact on learning, but then arbitrarily concluded that because it could not quantify exactly how increased operations would interfere with childhood learning, no further analysis was needed.
All other claims against the Navy were dismissed, which included arguments that the Navy also violated the Administrative Procedure Law and the National Historic Preservation Law.
Under NEPA, the Navy’s final decision can only be overturned if the Navy acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” and did not “carefully consider” the consequences of the proposed action.
Creatura appeared receptive, for example, to the COER’s argument that Navy noise calculations that average noisy days with calm days do not accurately represent reality, but he wrote that he is forced to decide because “the Navy did not arbitrarily or capriciously choose the average metric.
Still, Creatura criticized the Navy throughout its decision.
“You would think that with a dossier of nearly 200,000 pages, it would not be difficult to convince a court that the Navy has looked closely at the impacts on people and the environment,” he wrote. “However, the value of the case is not in its scope but in its ability to inform the decision of the Navy. In this, unfortunately, the record is lacking.
Bob Wilbur of the COER said it appeared the Attorney General won on two issues and the COER won on two issues. He said he was satisfied with the result and hopes the Navy will do a better job on its environmental impact statement the second time around.
Still, it’s unclear exactly what the ruling will mean. Creatura asked both parties to submit a stipulation regarding the appropriate remedy or a stipulated briefing schedule within 30 days.
This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sister publication of the Peninsula Daily News.
Leah Leach, editor-in-chief of Peninsula Daily News, contributed to this side of the story.