Growling at the Growler Jets


By Dr. John Marrs

    Sometime in the fall, the U.S. Navy will publish its final environmental impact statement (EIS) for electronic warfare training with Growler jets flying from the Whidbey Naval Air Station over the Olympic National Forest. All signs, including the initial draft of the EIS, indicate the Navy report will conclude that all systems are go and recommend that the Secretary of the Navy approve.
    This eventuality is being fought locally by Save the Olympic Peninsula (STOP), an organization of concerned citizens, and by Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve at Whidbey Island where the jets are based.
    Central to the opposition of STOP is the fact that the Navy EIS evaluation does not include any effects on the Olympic Peninsula, including human health, bird health and economic activity.
    The Navy did perform a lower-level evaluation called an Environmental Assessment for the Olympic Peninsula that unsurprisingly revealed no problems. Any impacts on the peninsula are “going to be totally unstudied,” according to Ron Richards of STOP.
    The Navy program’s opponents need to be in the fight for the longer haul, if they have any hope of success.
By some time next year, expect the Navy to upgrade the test flights now being flown irregularly to numerous daily flights over the Olympic Peninsula, including the national forest, the national park, Forks and the Lake Ozette area.
    Going for the long haul likely will mean challenging our Navy in court once the program has been approved and goes into its full mode.
    Anyone under the flight path of these EA-18G jets cannot help notice. Even deaf people feel the vibrations these jets cause.
    Oh, and did I mention sonic booms? They do that, too, although the Navy says they don’t do it very much.
    In fact, the Navy contends that the jets don’t make enough noise and don’t do so often enough to hurt anyone.
    What about damage to tourism and the local economy from the nuisance of jet noise?  Well, that is not considered in the environmental evaluations.
    Brian Cullin, a retired Navy captain and an experienced government press secretary, expects the Navy to put the electronic warfare training program into effect, despite his view that the Navy historically underestimates its effect on communities and “wears blinders” when it comes to making its case.
    He predicted in a Seattle Times commentary that the Navy will not face its greatest challenges until after the training begins and citizens on Whidbey Island and the Olympic Peninsula then react to the noise pollution foisted upon them.
    At a STOP meeting in Port Angeles in April, he told a gathering of some 60 people that he expects the Navy to prevail unless protesters succeed with legal action and political support.
    The protesters have won a modicum of recognition from Rep. Derek Kilmer, who has requested that the Navy pursue further sound studies. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray have apparently made no meaningful gestures of concern. Locally, we also have seen no resolutions of opposition or concern from the Clallam County Commission or the Port Angeles City Council.
The Olympic National Forest administration sides with the Navy. Reta Laford, forest supervisor, issued a draft for a “Finding of No Significant Impact” in March that when read carefully states that the final finding will be written to “clarify” that there would not be harmful effects to humans or wildlife from the jets.
    Paula Spina and Marianne Brabanski of Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve (COER) hope to establish such harmful effects, at least on Whidbey Island. Spina told the STOP meeting crowd that evidence shows that such high noise levels are “very damaging.” Brabanski, a retired audiologist, compiled a 33-page report asserting that the Navy’s operations cause cardiovascular and auditory damage to humans.
    How loud are these jets exactly? Up to 105 decibels (dB) even when flying at altitude, according to the Navy. Now, Brabanski says the Navy “considers any sound above 84 dB is noise hazardous.”
    So what disconnect is at play here? The trick seems to lie in distance, duration and frequency of exposure. In the Navy’s view, its training flight “events,” including multiple sorties with more than one jet, will not result in damage to humans. Mike Welding, public affairs officer at Whidbey NAS, pointed out that the jets fly at high altitudes (chiefly 6,000 feet and higher, according to the EIS), except on approach to landing at the air station. Asked about citizen reports of the jets flying low in mountain valleys, he said, “I don’t know why they would be doing that.”
    I then asked Ted Brown, a Navy public affairs officer in Norfolk, Va., if the presentation of prospects of damage to humans or wildlife might stop the plan here.  He answered, “I’m not going to speculate on anything that may or may not happen.”
    For what it’s worth, he did say that 4,300 public comments sent to the Navy are still under review. He did not suggest that this means the Navy has not yet made up its collective mind to go ahead with the program.
    Why does the Navy have to do this at all? First, according to Cullin, is the Navy’s unchallenged need to be prepared to fight with and against electronic warfare. But why do this here? Because Whidbey NAS exists and because it’s closer to comfortable homes for some 5,000 Growler personnel and saves time and fuel over alternative sites at China Lake in California or Mountain Home in Idaho.
    Officials basically view objections as falling under the adage of “not in my back yard.” In other words, nobody wants the program, but it has to operate somewhere.
    If you are a hiker or one who likes to visit Lake Ozette or the rain forest, you can expect to suffer some really loud intrusions. If you hike in the national forest, you might also come across strange looking trucks that will be using logging and fire roads to emit electronic microwave beams at the jets. Don’t worry about death rays. The Navy and the Forest Service assure that they are very narrow and there is no “radiation exposure hazard.”
    Government versus Local Concerns is an old story in our country. Government usually wins, but at Homestead Air Base in Florida, the Air Force in 2001 ended years of debate and recognized environmental concerns regarding harm to the Everglades and to Biscayne Bay. It dropped plans to let Homestead be transformed into a commercial air field.
In northern Alaska in the 1950s, local health concerns eventually overruled plans to create a harbor using atomic energy. I wrote a thesis about media coverage of the Atomic Energy Commission plan to explore the practical use of nuclear bombs by setting off three, four or five of them in Point Hope, Alaska. The brainchild of the late Edward Teller, the plan was dubbed Project Chariot. In that age before EIS reports, the proposal lasted several years before scientists established that the nuclear contamination of the food chain would kill eskimos (and likely anyone else living nearby).
    The prospect of slowly killing humans brought Project Chariot to an end.
    I would like to argue that COER and STOP can bring forth information of health threats that will turn away 117 Growlers. But that’s not going to happen – unless, as Capt. Cullin suggested, the flights themselves bring many more people on the Olympic Peninsula and on Whidbey to protest to Congressional representatives and to the Navy and to the Olympic National Forest.
    How do you measure how much public pressure it takes to stop a military program? The answer is always more.

John Merton Marrs, Ph.D., wrote “Project Chariot, Nuclear Zeal, Easy Journalism and the Fate of Eskimos,” published in American Journalism, Summer 1999, Vol. 16, No. 3, a condensation of his Master of Arts thesis at the University of Washington.


  1. anonymous

    I would venture to guess that the people making these decisions don’t live in the flight paths of these aircraft. And, likely don’t go hiking in what was once “wilderness”.

    What was the point of establishing a National Park system? Why was land set aside, and protected from development?

    In recognition that people NEED time and a place where human development is not. Quietude. Serenity. Undisturbed.

    Now, the only thing valued is money.

    Quality of life is now thought to be determined by what products you own, and how much money you can acquire.

  2. Mike

    An issue that has not been addressed is the effect of this noise on film shoots in the west end. There is one coming up this summer in the Hoh rain forest that will bring quite a bit of income to Forks motels, caterers, drivers and others. The film scouts were taken aback when the jet continued doing loops overhead. It was loud enough to normal ears- but their mikes were overwhelmed. They said if it was that bad again they would have to do the sound track in a studio, or go somewhere else. So far plans are still on.

  3. Just An Observer

    This is the single biggest issue facing the Peninsula.
    If people don’t get involved to voice opposition, this area will be ruined for everyone and everything.
    It’s just that simple.

    Save The Olympic Peninsula
    sweetwater (at) olypen (dot) com

  4. Greg

    The primary internal noise management policy guidance for National Park Service managers is known as Director’s Order #47. It order directs park managers to (1) measure baseline acoustic conditions, (2) determine which existing or proposed human-made sounds are consistent with park purposes, (3) set acoustic management goals and objectives based on these purposes, and (4) determine which noise sources are impacting the park and need to be addressed by management. Has the Olympic National Park’s Superintendent, Ms. Creachbaum or her predecessor, ordered the study, determined noise sources and addressed noise impacts?
    National Park Service Management Policies 2006, § 4.9 – Soundscape Management states, “Using appropriate management planning, superintendents will identify what levels of human-caused sound can be accepted within the management purposes of parks… In and adjacent to parks, the Service will monitor human activities that generate noise that adversely affects park soundscapes, including noise caused by mechanical or electronic devices. The Service will take action to prevent or minimize all noise that, through frequency, magnitude, or duration, adversely affects the natural soundscape or other park resources or values, or that exceeds levels that have been identified as being acceptable to, or appropriate for, visitor uses at the sites being monitored.”

    Olympic National Park’s Superintendent has directives that are not being monitored or achieved. Why has that agency been sitting on their hands in this matter?

  5. T Ruth

    I know this has been said before, in many different ways, but “Why doesn’t the Navy test it’s weaponry at it’s already existing huge weapons testing ranges out in the desert?”

    Why test military weapons in a National Park that is used by millions of civilians every year?

    The taxpayers have already paid for a designated weapons test facility.

    Engaging in an argument over the noise of fighter jets proposed to be testing military weapons validates their proposal. Their proposal is invalid, regardless of noise issues. They don’t need to use the National Park, because they have a designated weapons testing facility.

    Don’t play along. Don’t validate an incorrect proposal.

  6. Not a boy scout

    The Government seems intent on removing all viable means of employment from the peninsula. Wild olympics…another 126,000 acres out of timber production. What for so Growlers can… growl? I know the pilots don’t care if it’s quite in the forest, unless they’re in it trying to decompress from the stress of killing our enemies. If you don’t speak up now you may get this…

    First they came for the loggers, and I did not speak out because I was not a logger.
    Then they came for the mill workers, and I did not speak out because I was not a mill worker.
    Then they came for the tourists, and I did not speak out because I was not a tourist.
    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

    1. T Ruth

      Yes, people of the Peninsula and beyond need to speak out against this really ridiculous proposal, but that does not include the idea that logging is a dominant factor in the issue.

      The reality, now, is that commercial logging on the Olympic Peninsula is controlled by only a few, is shipping the resource to Asia, and is not providing the foundation for the area it once did.

      The world has moved on. The logs being harvested on the Olympic Peninsula are young, and have limited value to the lumber industry. Anywhere.

      What goes on now is the last ditch, desperate effort to make money at the public’s expense. There is nothing about the current “logging” operations that is benefiting the Olympic Peninsula, and it’s residents. It is not creating jobs, it is ravaging the resource for short term gain, and profiting only a very small few number of people.

      And, the tourists have been coming and going for many decades. What do we have to show for it? Again, a few people making money, while Port Angeles sits stagnant.

      Yes! Let’s speak! Loudly.

      Editor’s Note: In a report prepared by the Economic Development Council in 2014 they said timber exports were up 300% while timber related jobs are down 75%. This is unsustainable. We need a “Plan B”

      1. Anon

        Dear Editor,

        Yes, and a “Plan B” is very easy to set up. The world is moving in a very easily defined direction, if we don’t get distracted by the “car crash” of the moment the media tries so hard to get us to focus on.

        Can we ignore the distractions, and work for our common good? The way forward in there. We are only hampered by our own lack of focus.

    2. FormerPA

      First they came for the Native Americans. Who spoke for them?


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *