Rear Admiral Christopher Gray responds to AG Ferguson’s lawsuit

Ferguson cites human health, environmental and historical impacts for suing the Navy

U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Christopher “Scotty” Gray recently penned an Op-Ed regarding Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s suit against the Navy over expanded Growler operations on Whidbey Island.

Ferguson cites human health, environmental and historical impacts as his reasoning for the suit. Ferguson’s office claims the Navy’s environmental review process of the expansion “unlawfully failed to measure the impacts to public health and wildlife” in communities throughout Whidbey Island.

“The Navy has an important job, and it’s critical that their pilots and crews have the opportunity to train,” Ferguson said in a press release last week. “That does not relieve the federal government of its obligation to follow the law and avoid unnecessary harm to our health and natural resources.”

Back in March, the Navy approved an expansion of its Growler program to increase takeoffs and landings to almost 100,000 per year over the next 30 years. Growlers fly low in efforts to interrupt enemy communications, which means takeoffs and landings can be extremely loud. The expansion would take place at the Naval air station on Whidbey Island, where the Navy plans to add 35 Growler aircraft to its fleet by 2022.

“Navy Growlers provide Airborne Electronic Attack capabilities for all of our armed forces, and without the Growler’s ability to suppress enemy uses of electromagnetic energy, American troops in the air, at sea, and on the ground are at risk,” Adm. Gray wrote in his Op-Ed. “But as important as this mission is, we also understand that our operations can impact the environment and the local community.”

“For this reason, the Navy spent six years studying the potential environmental impacts of the decision to add EA-Growler aircraft at NAS Whidbey Island.”

Gray wrote that the Navy consulted with federal experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service under the Endangered Species Act to ensure the best available science was used to evaluate impacts to natural resources.

He also mentioned that through a Department of Defense funding program, the Navy has been able to protect 1,200 acres on Whidbey Island and invested $13.8 million to landowners willing to help conserve the community’s rural setting. From 2004 to 2013, the Navy funded over $240 million for marine mammal research, and in 2014 it allocated $29.6 million for the same purpose.

“We care a great deal about reducing our impact to our neighbors as much as possible,” Gray wrote. “This is why the Navy regularly publishes our operations schedule, and our leadership meets with the county and the school district to discuss upcoming events and come up with solutions that avoid disruption as much as possible.”

“None of us joined the Navy to disturb our neighbors; we joined to protect them. Just like other residents of Whidbey Island, our kids are in the same schools, and we enjoy the same hikes, parks, and community traditions. We are part of this community, and we tread carefully when making decisions that may impact our shared environment.”