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OLF group plans next steps as EIS begins

A judge has awarded a stay on the lawsuit filed against the Navy by a Coupeville group seeking to stop touch-and-go operations at Outlying Field Coupeville.

The group received what they considered a victory when the Navy agreed to conduct the Environmental Impact Statement the lawsuit demanded, but they have additional plans, including a class-action lawsuit.

Controversy over OLF reached a fevered pitch earlier this year after increasing complaints about the noise associated with the Navy’s ongoing Field Landing Carrier Practice or touch-and-go operations. The Navy is in the process of transiting from the EA-6B Prowler to the EA-8G Growler, an aircraft some believe is louder.

The Navy suspended operations at OLF through the end of the calendar year and the Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve or COER filed a lawsuit demanding the EIS with the aim of closing OLF and stopping touch-and-gos there completely.

However, according to COER President Ken Pickard, the group has no plans to stop at the EIS.

In October, the group plans to release a report compiled by health experts hired by COER, explaining the health risks associated with the operations at OLF to both children and adults, Pickard said. He said among the group are researchers associated with Harbor View Medical Center in Seattle.

“The impacts are enormous, real and scientifically-based,” Pickard said.

If the Navy intends to restart the touch-and-gos at OLF in January as planned, COER’s attorney David Mann will file an injunction for them to desist until the EIS is completed in 2015, Pickard said.

Pickard said that while he believes the EIS may mitigate the problem, he is not optimistic that the EIS will lead to a closure of OLF.

For that reason, COER is considering a class-action lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. He said the group plans to follow the example of a Virginia Beach group that has sued the Navy claiming that “loud FA-18 Hornets (at Oceana Naval Air Station) have lowered the value of their homes and negatively affected their everyday lives,” according to the Virginian-Pilot.

Damages are estimated at $500 million, according to the report.

“We don’t want money, just peace and quiet,” Pickard said via email after the interview. “But if we can’t get peace in quiet we will have to go in this direction, a four-county wide inverse condemnation class action, get the compensation for our lost property values due to jet overflight and then decide whether to sell out and move on or stay and live with ear protectors on our heads. I will leave if we are unsuccessful, however I believe we will prevail in getting the OLF closed to military flight training.”

Ultimately, Pickard said, the only solution may be a “political decision” on a national level, but he has been disappointed at the lack of response from Rep. Rick Larsen and other leaders.

Pickard said Larsen, who is an outspoken supporter of the Navy, has been unresponsive to the group’s complaints.

A statement released from Larsen’s press office said: “Our office was in consistent contact with and responded to inquiries from the Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve until they filed a lawsuit, at which point they understood we could no longer engage. Since that time our office records show we haven’t received any requests to meet with their group.”

 

Community Events, April 2014

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