— from Maryon Attwood, Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve —
As a result of Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve’s (COER’s) complaint actions, noise as a public health issue, has moved up on state priorities for protecting and preventing auditory and non-auditory health impacts on children in schools throughout Washington.
After a unanimous vote by the State Board of Health in late 2016, the Board moved to conduct an investigation of a complaint from Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve’s (COER’s) under RCW 70.05.120 to determine the vague directives of that provision.
The investigation against Dr. Brad Thomas, Island County Health Officer, and Keith Higman, Director and Administrator of Island County Public Health under this provision was to determine the authority of the Health Officers to act on their own discretion on noise as a health emergency. This was not an exoneration of people, as stated by the Whidbey News Times but a dismissal of a complaint. State Board of Health members felt that public health guidelines were clearer in regards to communicable diseases and dismissed the complaint against Environmental Health officers Thomas and Higman.
“As citizens, our options to highlight military aircraft noise as a public health issue have been extremely limited and challenged by local health officials and Board of Health members who, in our opinion have had enough information to take preventative or educational actions. Instead, they have done nothing and turned a deaf ear to the scores of citizens who spoke at public meetings. A state process offered by the State Board of Health provided a valuable venue to challenge the lines of public health responsibility,” commented COER Board member, Paula Spina.
The State Board’s positive action to ask for a Health Impact Assessment from the Navy is recognition that there is a problem. Asking for an assessment to understand the health implications of military jet noise exposure related to Navy Air Station Whidbey Island operations validates citizen complaints.
The Board’s action repeats a similar request by the Washington State Department of Health for a Health Impact Assessment requested in comments to the Navy’s DEIS Growler expansion at NASWI. There is a new awareness on the part of State Board of Health members revealed during discussions that showed understanding that military jet training noise has negative impact on adults and children.
There is new general agreement of state health personnel to know more and determine responsibility for prevention, education, and mitigation of auditory and non-auditory noise impacts. The Washington State Department of Health has also completed a research review and has concluded that noise is a public health issue.
The Washington State Department of Health also agreed as a result of the March 8th meeting that they will step forward with assistance to the county to help conduct a Health Impact Assessment should the Navy refuse, as funds are available.
A final motion by the Board to make recommendations to the Island County Board of Health to better understand the health implications of military jet noise exposure related to Navy Air Station Whidbey Island operations will be taken up at a future meeting. This included a recommendation to Island County to ask the Navy for a Health Impact Assessment on jet noise.
In spite of this new progress at the state level, citizens of Island County – where noise is a major issue – are left with an Island County Board of Health Resolution that restricts public comments about noise and health at public meetings. Citizens who bring up this issue currently are being asked to stop speaking or be removed from meetings.
COER activists have led the way in challenging harmful status quo impacts of military aircraft noise, locally, and at the state levels of government. “The out of step Resolution engineered by Jill Johnson at the Island County Board of Health must now be repealed as a result of the State’s acknowledgment that noise is a public health issue”, stated Maryon Attwood, COER President.
“As citizens, our options to highlight military aircraft noise as a public health issue have been extremely limited and challenged by local health officials and Board of Health members who, in our opinion had enough information to take some small preventative or educational actions. Instead, they decided to do nothing and turned a deaf ear to the scores of citizens who spoke at public meetings. This state process offered by the State Board of Health provided a valuable venue to challenge the lines of responsibility” added Paula Spina.
“If the military is to remain a welcome neighbor in our communities, they cannot continue to be exempted from public health regulations and they cannot be allowed to continue to harm American citizens, especially the most vulnerable. The Navy owns millions of acres of remote and restricted land where they have already conducted, and can continue to conduct, this flight training without harming civilians. They have alternatives; our citizens, towns, and cities do not. Education, current science, and prevention are real tools available to us all,” concluded Attwood, COER President.
For more information about COER, go to: citizensofebeysreserve.com