Rep. Derek Kilmer wants a “neutral” government agency to step in the middle of a running dispute that pits Navy plans for increased flight training on the Olympic Peninsula against the wishes of residents who worry that jet noise will disrupt the serenity of Olympic National Park.
Kilmer this week wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Interior Secretary Sally Jewel asking them to collaborate on a study of military jet noise over Olympic National Park.
He wants them to work through the Federal Interagency Committee on Noise, which brings together different federal agencies to settle conflicts over aviation noise.
“It’s important to strike the right balance on this issue,” Kilmer said. “Having data to look at how extensive a problem this could be is important, and that’s why I’d ask the experts who actually study aircraft noise to weigh in.”
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The Navy wants to give its pilots an enhanced electronic warfare training by challenging them to identify communication signals from different locations in the Olympic National Forest. The signals would be sent from trucks that would move around the forest.
Naval Air Station Whidbey Island is home to a growing fleet of EA-18G Growler jets, which are used to gather intelligence and identify radar signals.
The Navy needs the U.S. Agriculture Department to approve the plan, and a decision is expected by September. The state’s Department of Natural Resources sought to block the Navy from conducting that kind of training in state forests.
Navy jets already fly training routes over the Olympic Peninsula, and Navy officials contend forest users won’t notice much difference if the military is allowed to put trucks on the ground with communications equipment. Hundreds of people have written to the Forest Service to protest the plan, expressing concerns about disruptions to the environment.
Naval Air Station Whidbey Island is home to about 80 Growler jets. A group of island residents contends Growlers are louder than Navy jets that have been stationed there in the past. The residents last month filed a federal lawsuit seeking to reduce some of the Growler training that takes place over their homes.
Kilmer wants the Department of the Interior to gather data on military jet noise over Olympic National Park. The interagency noise committee then would review the data and make recommendations for how the military and National Park Service could accommodate each other.
“Surely, there is a solution that optimizes the need for realistic training and our responsibility to preserve our unique natural resources,” Kilmer wrote.