It is an island divided. Complaints over loud navy jets recently shut down a landing strip on the south end of Whidbey Island. Now, neighbors to the north are saying, “Bring the noise!”
At the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, the whir of the office printer is drowned out by a roar from above.
“I love it!” said Chamber Director Kathy Reed over the din of an overhead plane on Wednesday.
A movement is taking flight in the navy town to keep fighters prowling and growling in the skies. The chamber is launching a propaganda campaign, saying “jets equal jobs.”
“Everybody says that’s the sound of freedom. Well, that’s the sound of our economic base,” said Reed.
Neighbors about 15 miles down the road complain noise from training missions at a Coupeville landing strip called an “outlying field”, or OLF, makes them miserable, with decibel levels soaring into the danger zone. A recent federal lawsuit caused the Navy to suspend operations at the OLF through the end of the year.
That prompted folks like Wendy Shingleton to stand up in defense of the Navy. She printed bumper stickers that boast “I Love Jet Noise” and t-shirts that proclaim “Jet Noise Is An Aphrodisiac.” She got calls from six states and sold out almost immediately.
“It was overwhelming. The best thing is it really has brought people here closer together,” she said from her clothing and gift store “Squadron Spirit.”
The island, however, remains split into two camps that see the jets as either a job generator, with 68 percent of employment in the county tied to the base, or a nuisance that pollutes the air with noise and exhaust.
Kathy Reed says she plans to take her campaign across the county, letting the Navy know loud and clear that many here never want the noise silenced. “That’s what makes Whidbey Island Whidbey Island.”
A rally in support of the OLF is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, August 3, at the corner of Highway 20 and Pioneer in downtown Oak Harbor.