Today I attended the annual “State of the Base” meeting with the North Puget Sound Area Realtors. Captain Geoff Moore, Commanding Officer of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NASWI), gave a 20 minute presentation that included some interesting facts and figures affecting life and the real estate market in the North Whidbey region.
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Update
For the last few years the Navy has been studying the environmental impact of increasing the amount of jets (most importantly the “Growler” jets) based at NASWI. This lengthy report was supposed to be finalized this fall, but some important technological changes have caused a delay in the final report, which is now expected in the fall of 2018.
What is this important technological change? Please forgive my lack of technical knowledge (I was scribbling notes as fast as I could at the meeting!) A new way of training jet pilots in their carrier landings through a simulator has shown to be very effective, and the Navy is fast-tracking it’s deployment as a training method. The advantage of this is it reduces the amount of actual “touch and go’s” that pilots need to take the noisy Growlers through.
Here are some numbers. Currently NASWI runs approximately 24,000 touch and go repetitions each year, split between the Outlying Field (OLF) in Coupeville, and the main runways at Ault Field in Oak Harbor. The worst case scenario for the amount of these repetitions with the coming of additional Growlers to NASWI in the preliminary version of the EIS was approximately 42,000 – almost a 100% increase. Captain Moore stated that with the new technology those numbers would be reduced to around 32,000. This is still a 33% increase in noise generating flights, but not nearly the increase originally projected.
TAKEAWAY: At this point there is no way to know what percentage of these touch and go trainings will happen in Coupeville, and how many will be in Oak Harbor. What is known is that the normal flight pattern is not expected to change from it’s current pattern. This means that people living in the noise zones will most likely experience an increase in the amount of time each year they experience “the sound of freedom”. Those who only occasionally experience noise from the jets will likely not notice a huge difference. (Request a noise zone map.)
The Navy and the Housing Shortage
Commander Moore showed graphs which demonstrated that we are currently at the top of the growth curve for personnel on the base (both military and civilian). Although there are still 3 squadrons slated to be transferred to NASWI in the next couple years, other changes in base operations will result in a net zero increase from the current amount of people coming in and out of the gates each day.
The Navy’s internal studies of housing within a 60 minute commute shows that there are adequate options for their personnel. Although housing is tight in Oak Harbor close to the base, their studies show there is sufficient housing within that 60-minute radius (which includes all of Whidbey Island, Fidalgo Island, and along the Hwy 20 corridor out to Sedro Woolley). For this reason, the Navy is not planning on constructing any new housing on or near NASWI in the near future.
TAKEAWAY: If these projected numbers are accurate, then the shortage of available, affordable housing now happening in North Whidbey and the surrounding regions will likely continue, but not get increasingly worse in the coming years. The Sellers’ market we have experienced the past few years is not likely to change in the near future.
Water Quality Around The Runways
In the last year contamination in underground water near Navy runways around the country has been linked to the use of a certain chemical used in putting out fires, and in training for putting out fires. This prompted testing of wells within a reasonable radius of both Ault Field and the Outlying Field. Captain Moore said that to date just over 200 homeowners have responded to the Navy’s offer to test their well. Of these, 10 wells were found to be above the EPA’s safety level for that chemical. Those homeowners have been supplied bottled water and the investigation into the severity of the problem and possible solutions is still underway.
TAKEAWAY: Anyone living with one mile of either Ault Field’s runways or the Outlying Field is urged to have their well tested. Also, anyone purchasing a home within these areas should require the disclosure of results from this testing before going through with a purchase.
Regardless of any individual’s feelings about living with Naval Air Station Whidbey Island nearby, life on North/Central Whidbey Island as well as Fidalgo Island involves enjoying the benefits and mitigating the negative aspects of the Navy base’s presence and “the Sound of Freedom”. Having lived on North Whidbey since 2002 I am available to answer your questions about life here including the pros and the cons. (I think the pros far outweigh the cons!)