The Navy and National Park Service will continue to cooperate on finding a solution to jet noise over Olympic National Park.
The Navy is proposing an $11.5 million expansion of electronic warfare testing for EA-18 Growlers out of Whidbey Island. Its planes already fly over the park, but it wants to move around three camper-sized transmitters on 12 Olympic National Forest logging roads. Growler crews would target electromagnetic radiation emitting from them.
The Navy has requested a permit for the activity from the U.S. Forest Service, which is expected to decide early next year.
The Navy claimed it wouldn't harm people's enjoyment of the outdoors, adding just one more flight a day. Environmental activists disagreed. U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, pushed for better information and brought in the Federal Interagency Committee on Aviation Noise (FICAN) to evaluate it.
The Navy had never assessed flight operations around Olympic National Park, concluding it wasn't necessary because the noise was below levels thought to be of concern. The Park Service had performed little noise monitoring, and what it had mixed Navy operations in with other jet aircraft. FICAN, playing the role of neutral party, asked for and received detailed noise modeling of aircraft from the Navy and a larger quantity of noise monitoring from the Parks Service, which tried to segregate the Navy jets. It also analyzed a couple of weeks of Federal Aviation Administration flight operations records that yielded unexpected results.
"The airspace experiences a considerable amount of flight activity, both from commercial and a wide variety of military aircraft," FICAN chairman Kevin Shepherd wrote to Kilmer. "Navy EA-18 operations appear to represent a minority of the operations over the park."
That finding hampers further progress on an assessment of the impact of Navy operations on the park, Shepherd said. A more comprehensive analysis of the airspace over the park coupled with additional noise monitoring probably is needed.
All three agencies say they'll continue to cooperate in collecting and evaluating data.
The Navy and Kilmer, whose 6th District includes the Olympic Peninsula, are confident the agencies working together will get it right.
"The Navy wants to work with our federal partner and do the things we need to do so we can execute our national security mission and they can have a park that they can be proud of," Navy Region Northwest spokesman Chris Haley said.
"We all want our service members to be properly trained," Kilmer said. "By taking an approach grounded in science, we can ensure that happens in a way in which the soundscape and environment of our iconic park are respected."