Whidbey Island: Hellscape or Navy jet noise or Puget Sound jewel?

There are two versions of Whidbey Island.

There is one version promoted by anti-Navy jet activists who portray Whidbey Island as a toxic soundscape, plagued by health issues, waning wildlife, a blighted business environment and schools struggling to endure, all due to noisy Navy jets.

That version is told to any media publication, government official or judge who will listen. It was expressed in the Op-Ed “Restore the balance between Navy’s needs and civilian communities impacted by Growler jets” [Aug. 11, Opinion].

If only the jets would be relocated, balance can be restored and the community could prosper — so they advocate.

Note, jets have been at Whidbey since 1956. In successive years, almost twice as many jets have been based at Whidbey than now. A recent court order directs the Navy to look a bit harder at very specific areas of an expansive, multiyear impact study. The study relates to a 36-jet increase and allocation of landing practice operations at Whidbey.

Unlike the negative, toxic version, there is a second version of Whidbey Island. This is experienced by the overwhelmingly vast majority of those who live, work and visit here: Whidbey is beautiful, vibrant and thriving.

Business and community groups are thriving. Health is thriving. Schools are thriving. Nature around Whidbey is thriving. Tourism is thriving.

Island County is a top rural economy. It is the third healthiest county in the state, while Washington itself is among the Top 10 healthiest states. Whidbey schools are highly ranked, with outstanding graduation rates. The large tax base supports extensive government services.

Near Whidbey Island, and on the protected expansions of the base, wildlife and marine life have high population densities. Whidbey’s Deception Pass is a top tourist destination and the island a perennial mention in publications and awards for daytrips, weekend getaways and vacations.

Any description suggesting otherwise is simply an inaccurate characterization.

The naval air base generates an enviable $1 billion in economic impact. Island County experiences some of the most large-scale volunteerism of any community, thanks to the Navy. Tied directly to the jets, all of Western Washington gains from the Navy’s most prolific search and rescue (SAR) unit, performing roughly 25% of all airborne rescues in the Lower 48 states. The jets themselves have a 100% combat success record protecting US and allied aircraft.

Despite what was implied in the latest Op-Ed, activists represent just themselves. Whidbey has legitimate leaders in government, education, business and community organizations with bilaterally open doors with Navy leaders.

Hopefully, the court will take this into account as it assesses activist litigation. However, the role for the court is to ensure federal agencies (Navy) have taken an appropriate and thorough review of the impacts of its proposed operations. Recommendations and remedies must adhere to those specific issues.

In the end, the court should not substitute its judgment for that of the Navy’s. This is especially relevant in national security affairs and risk management concerning extremely hazardous operations such as combat and aircraft carrier operations.

The Navy benefits greatly from its regional training areas, especially given current and projected world events. In return, our state and our community benefit greatly from the comprehensive prosperity, SAR and conservancy, as it has for many decades.

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