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Noise, not safety, is main Osprey concern in Hawaii

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — As opposition to the Osprey aircraft grows in Japan, another deployment is sparking public concern on American soil, though not so much over the aircraft’s safety record.

The Marine Corps is poised to move an Osprey squadron to Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, along with new deployments of several other types of aircraft. Some residents fear the increased flight operations could mean a surge in noise levels over homes and schools.

The Osprey deployments to Hawaii and Japan are part of the service’s global rollout of the aircraft, which has caused friction in recent weeks. In Hawaii, the Navy has spent two years on environmental studies and public outreach for the Marine Corps project. It is now set to make a decision early next month on how to deploy the aircraft to the base on the picturesque bay.

So far, the effort there has not become entangled in a debate over recent crashes and the Osprey’s safety, as is now the case in Japan. But the Navy’s studies and public engagement have done little to quell noise concerns, even in a community that is often strongly pro-military.

“Some people are concerned about the Osprey and its safety record,” said Bill Sager, secretary of the Kaneohe Neighborhood Board. “[But] in general, we expect the flight paths to be off shore and I don’t think people are that concerned about an Osprey dropping on their house … the noise issue is the main issue here.”

The Ospreys are to be deployed with AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters and Huey utility helicopters, which has added to anxiety about new air traffic. A separate plan is under way at the base to replace the Navy’s older P-3 Orion aircraft with the P-8A Poseidon, a large surveillance and reconnaissance jet.

Sager said the fear is the new air traffic will be rattling more windows and causing disruptions at local schools as sound waves reverberate off the tall, jagged cliffs surrounding Kaneohe Bay.

“We are kind of holding our breath to see what that impact will be,” he said.

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The Navy, which oversees such Marine Corps projects, released its final environmental report on the Osprey and helicopter deployments last month and the Kaneohe neighborhood board’s last two meetings have been dominated by discussions on noise, according to Sager.

The service found that noise will not be a substantial environmental problem. It is now in the middle of a 30-day waiting period following the release of the final report. It will release its final decision on the basing plan at the close of the waiting period in early August, according to Marine Corps Bases Hawaii public affairs.

But the Kaneohe board members passed a resolution Thursday claiming the Navy has not proved the community and an intermediate school near the base will not be disrupted by new noise. They urged the military to provide a public display of the aircraft to gauge loudness before making any decision on the deployment, according to a copy of the resolution obtained by Stars and Stripes.

Rep. Cynthia Thielen, a state lawmaker whose district covers Kaneohe Bay, told the Navy earlier this month that noise remains the top public concern because the service has not taken the issue seriously enough in its environmental studies, particularly around local schools.

“Even though parents and teachers of these students understand that protecting our freedom comes at a cost — and that personal and community sacrifices need to be made — expediency in proceeding with this project does not justify ignoring its possible adverse effects on student learning and achievement,” according to a list of concerns Thielen submitted to the Navy in a July 10 letter.

First Lt. Diann Olson, spokeswoman for Marine Corps Bases Hawaii, said aircraft noise was studied and addressed in the Navy’s final environmental report.

The study, which used computer models, shows that the deployment of the Ospreys and helicopters would increase the average noise level in Kaneohe Bay by only about one to three decibels throughout the day, compared with current conditions. A typical suburban neighborhood has an all-day average noise level of about 55 decibels, according to Olson.

“Regardless of the degree of impact associated with noise from the proposed [deployment], it is recognized that noise is an environmentally controversial issue based on public input and involvement,” the Navy report said.

Meanwhile, the Marine Corps base will try to manage aircraft noise problems through complaint lines, public liaisons and its weekly newsletter, she said.

“We keep a record of all noise complaints, provide them to the base staff, and respond to noise complaints if contact information is provided,” Olson wrote in an email to Stars and Stripes.

trittent@pstripes.osd.mil

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