Washington state sues Navy over expanded flights on island

Washington state is suing the Navy over its expansion of jet operations on Whidbey Island

SEATTLE -- Washington state sued the Navy on Tuesday over its expansion of jet operations on an island north of Seattle, saying officials failed to adequately consider the effect that additional noisy flights would have on people or wildlife.

The Navy's public affairs office said it does not comment on litigation.

The Navy in March authorized the expansion of its Growler program by up to three dozen jets, adding to the 82 already based on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle.

The low-flying jets conduct electronic warfare to jam enemy communications and launch systems, and under the expansion plans crews would perform around 100,000 takeoffs and landings a year for the next three decades.

It could also disrupt the feeding and breeding of eagles and marbled murrelets, a type of seabird.

In the news release, Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp called on the federal government to strike a balance between national security and environmental preservation.

In its decision to approve the expansion plan, the Navy said the number of flights on the island would be comparable to those that occurred from the 1970s through the 1990s. It also said it would continue to invest in technologies to reduce engine and aircraft noise.

The state's lawsuit alleges violations of the National Environmental Protection Act and the federal Administrative Procedure Act. Ferguson said he intended to add claims under the Endangered Species Act.

The National Parks Conservation Association said it supports the lawsuit, noting that the flights could also affect Ebey's Landing, a historical preserve on Whidbey Island, and Olympic National Park. The association recently filed a lawsuit accusing the Navy of withholding information about noise pollution from the jets over Olympic National Park.

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer wrote a letter in March to the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, rebuffing its call for additional noise monitoring and tracking of the effect on tourism. He said the Navy had already performed noise monitoring and noted it was spending $876,000 to refurbish a home at Ebey Landing built in 1860.