LOCAL NEWS

Fight for quiet in Olympic National Park pits Navy versus nature

Oct 9, 2019, 6:21 AM | Updated: Oct 11, 2019, 9:36 am

What do the Navy’s unique Growler jets have to do with one man’s mission to save silence?

Island residents grumbling over Navy’s Growler jet noise

A self-described “sound tracker,” acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton claims fewer than 10 places in the U.S. remain free of noise pollution. He considers true quiet not an absence of sound, but the complete removal of human-caused noise.

“Silence is so important to me, because without silence I don’t think I’d even know who I was,” said Hempton on a recent afternoon in Washington’s Olympic National Forest, a place he considered one of the least noise-polluted in the country… until recently.

As an award-winning acoustic ecologist, Hempton travels the world to record nature’s soundtrack. His audio portfolio includes snow melting, the Ecuadorian Amazon, and Haleakala Crater on Maui – dubbed “The Quietest Place on Earth” ­– where the sound pressure level is negative decibels inside the crater.

Hempton’s recordings span nearly four decades. After all those years, he’s declared one of the quietest spots in the lower 48. Established on Earth Day 2005, he calls it “One Square Inch of Silence.”

“This simple one square inch will be defended from all sources of noise pollution,” Hempton said, standing in front of the “gateway” to one square inch.

It’s located in Olympic National Park’s Hoh Rain Forest, where annual rainfall totals average 12 to 14 feet. Thick layers of moss cover nearly every tree and the “air is absolutely still and moist.” Hempton claims it’s even possible to hear a hemlock seed fall 300 feet to the forest floor.

Enter the Growler

In recent years, air travel has increased over the park, drowning out some of its natural sounds. That includes an average 2,300 training flights a year by Boeing-made EA-18G Growlers, fighter jets built for electronic warfare. It takes them only about ten minutes to fly past the rain forest from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, approximately 75 miles away.

“We have a unique mission. We’re the only one that does it in the world,” said Commander David Harris, Commanding Officer for the Electronic Attack Squadron at NAS Whidbey, the Navy’s only Growler training team.

The stealthy planes contain electronic jammers that are used to scramble, confuse, and shut down enemy signals. They train in the Olympic Military Operations Areas, airspace established by the Federal Aviation Administration in 1977.

It stretches across a section of the Olympic Peninsula and extends into the Pacific Ocean. The growlers arrived in 2008, and now more are likely on the way after the Navy approved an expansion of the fleet.

“We are very much in demand because, not only the Navy, but all of our coalition and ally partners want the Growler there whenever possible, because we provide them this umbrella of protection,” said Harris. “We’re very, very busy and we could definitely use some help in getting more assets on board.”

The Navy’s plans include an additional 36 growlers, bringing the total to 118. Military officials estimate that will increase the number of flights over Olympic National Park to 2,600.

The Growler expansion has been scrutinized by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who alleges the Navy’s environmental impact statement did not thoroughly examine the planes’ effects on people and wildlife. Ferguson has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Seattle, challenging the environmental review.

Dori: Ferguson suing Navy over Growler noise just grandstanding

While the Navy acknowledges the sound impact over Olympic National Park, officials said the FAA controls where the growlers can train. The National Parks Conversation Association argues they could voluntarily fly elsewhere.

The association has launched a campaign, called “Hear Our Olympics.” It calls for the Navy to leave the national park’s skies, suggesting they train at other airbases and military airspace.

One example, according to the association, is Mountain Home Air Force Base in Southern Idaho, where the Navy conducts similar training. NAS Whidbey officials estimate that would cost an extra $5 million a year and worry it would waste valuable training time. Harris estimated flying to the Idaho base would take up to an hour.

“There’s another huge cost that’s factored in and that’s the wear and tear on the aircraft,” said John Mosher, the Navy’s U.S. Pacific Fleet Northwest Environmental Program Manager. “Putting additional mileage on them just to get to and from another airspace decreases the service life.”

Mosher said they try to minimize the Growlers’ disturbance by flying high and using more flight simulators. Gordon Hempton said he appreciates the Navy’s effort but thinks it’s not enough to ensure his “One Square Inch of Silence” remains silent.

“They’re no enemies of quiet. They’re just people trying to do their job, and they just need their job redefined a little bit,” said Hempton. “Our national parks belong on earth and in the sky for everybody to enjoy.”

For now, the skies above the Olympic Peninsula belong to the Navy’s mission of defending freedom. What that sounds like is up for debate.

Local News

rapid covid test...
MyNorthwest Staff

UW doctor: When to use a PCR versus rapid antigen test for COVID-19

Dr. Geoff Baird with UW Medicine has a simple formula for weighing the two main COVID test types: PCR (polymerase chain reaction) and rapid antigen.
17 hours ago
USS John McCain...
KIRO Radio Newsdesk

Naval Station Everett welcomes USS John S. McCain

The USS John S. McCain is now docked at its new homeport, Naval Station Everett.
17 hours ago
vaccine booster, heart...
Stephanie Klein

What to know as Oct. 18 deadline for vaccine mandate approaches

The deadline for state workers, including educators, and healthcare workers to show their employers proof that they're vaccinated against COVID-19 is Monday, Oct. 18.
17 hours ago
medina...
KIRO 7 News Staff

Police: Two in custody after hit-and-run suspect rams patrol car; officer fires shots

Two people were taken into custody after a driver suspected of a hit-and-run rammed an officer’s patrol vehicle, resulting in the officer firing shots at the car Saturday night in Medina.
17 hours ago
Seattle library...
MyNorthwest Staff

Last of Seattle Public Library branch closures from pandemic comes to an end

Seattle has reopened its NewHolly library branch, meaning that for the first time since the start of the pandemic, all 27 of the city's branches are now up and running.
2 days ago
...
KIRO 7 News Staff

2 people shot in Seattle; suspect surrenders to police after SWAT negotiation

A suspect surrendered to police Saturday afternoon after two people were shot in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, the Seattle Police Department said.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
...
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
...
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
...
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.
...
Comcast

Small, Minority-Owned Businesses in King County and Pierce County Can Now Apply For $10,000 Relief Grants Through Comcast RISE

Businesses in King County and Pierce County can apply beginning on October 1, 2021, at www.ComcastRISE.com for a chance to receive a $10,000 relief grant.
Courtesy of JWatch Photography....
Experience Anacortes

Summer Fun Activities in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
Fight for quiet in Olympic National Park pits Navy versus nature