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U.S. navy's environmental review of Whidbey Island Growler jet expansion rejected by judge

Washington state attorney general objected to expansion of Growler training flights
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In this June 3, 2008, file photo, the Navy's EA-18G Growler plane is seen in Oak Harbor, Washington, after it was unveiled in a ceremony at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. Washington state sued the Navy on July 9, 2019, over its expansion of jet operations on Whidbey Island, saying officials failed to adequately consider the effect that additional noisy flights would have on people or wildlife. (Michael O'Leary/The Herald via AP, File)

A U.S. Navy environmental review failed to properly assess the impact of noise that would result from increased training flights for Growler aircraft at Whidbey Island in Washington state, a U.S. federal judge has ruled.

Growlers are used for electronic warfare, flying low to jam communications. Low rumbling noise from the aircraft can often be heard in Greater Victoria.

The ruling said the Navy failed to disclose the basis for greenhouse gas emissions calculations, failed to quantify the impact on classroom learning, failed to take a hard look at species-specific impacts on birds, and failed to give detailed consideration to the Navy base in El Centro, California, as an alternative for Growler expansion.

The two-page ruling adopted the recommendation of a U.S. federal magistrate, who issued a report and recommendation in December in favour of state Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s lawsuit.

The state and the other parties have 30 days to either agree on a remedy or on a briefing schedule to come up with a remedy, Ferguson said in a statement.

In 2019, the Navy authorized a significant expansion of its Growler program at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, increasing flight operations to more than 110,000 per year, the Attorney General Office said.

In response, Ferguson filed a lawsuit arguing that the Navy violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the federal Administrative Procedure Act by improperly analyzing the impact the Growler expansion would have on human and environmental health.

This lawsuit was announced and filed concurrently with a similar lawsuit from Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve.

“The Navy has an important job,” Ferguson said in the statement. “But that does not relieve the federal government of its obligation to follow the law and take a hard look at the public health and environmental impacts of its programs. Today the judge ruled that the Navy fell short of its obligation.”