This is the Internet edition of the Spring 2003 AEA newsletter Soundings.

You may click the headline index or scroll through the newsletter.

The Battle Against The Noise Monster

Why The Noise Monster Stalks Our Countryside

AEA Requests Publication of a Revised DEIS

AEA Questions Footprint of The Noise Monster

AEA Launches New No OLF Post Card Campaign

NC Politicians Support Parallel Runway

Keep the Heat On

Important Contacts

Concerned About Jet Noise?

Sanctuary for Birds, Bears, And Us Threatened

The Sounds of Silence on a Summer Day

Don't Take NEPA for Granted


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The Battle Against The Noise Monster

Residents across eastern North Carolina are fighting mad about the Navy proposal to build an Outlying Landing Field (OLF) here so pilots can practice touch and go landings with new, super noisy Super Hornet jets in the middle of "nowhere." Split-basing squadrons is proposed for Oceana air base in Virginia Beach VA and Cherry Point in Havelock NC. Those communities will see millions pumped into their economies. Counties affected by an OLF, however, will reap no such bounty.

Never before have eastern North Carolinians been so unified on an issue. Their opposition to this monster that would gobble up land, livelihoods, and futures is strong and vocal. A spirit of cooperation, fostered by informative web sites, e-mail communications and telephone chains prevails across the miles. Strangers have become friends. Hands have been joined. And alliances among counties have strengthened.

If the Navy truly needed an OLF, opposition might be muted, but here's what the Navy has to say in their Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS): "Existing facilities at NAS Oceana and NALF Fentress were found to meet all the requirements to support the FCLP operations of the Super Hornet squadrons." An OLF is needed, the Navy says, "to enhance quality of life and provide mitigation of noise and population encroachment. . .at NAS Oceana and NALF Fentress."

Public Hearings attracted thousands-standing-room-only crowds-with speaker after speaker voicing opposition to The Noise Monster. That economically depressed counties would be selected as candidates for noise dumped from prosperous Virginia Beach generated widespread dismay. Still, the fine professionalism of Navy personnel, together with the courteous demeanor of speakers were a tribute to democracy and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the federal regulation which governed the hearings.

We cannot begin to match the eloquence of those who spoke, but we will try to share with you some of their concerns. We don't have a lot of money, but we have worked hard to make a good life here. Please don't take that away from us. . . I will lose the farm that's been in my family for generations. I hoped it would be my retirement and my children's inheritance. . .When you sit down to dinner in Virginia Beach, remember that the food you eat was grown on our land.

I've finally left the noise of an air base and retired to my dream home on a quiet piece of land and now that noise is coming back to haunt me. . .We are working hard to attract retirees and tourists. The area is becoming a destination for vacationers. . .I am going away to school, but I want to come back here to spend the rest of my life. I want something to come back to.

On the other hand, the public hearing in Virginia Beach was highly contentious, punctuated by citizen outburst. Complaints ranged from noisy flights over expensive homes to the hardships of relocation to Cherry Point. Sentiment ran high for basing all squadrons at Oceana with an OLF down here to get rid of noise.

For a while sentiment here ran high for an OLF in Craven County, until the people of Beaufort County spoke up. Sandwiched between proposed sites in Washington and Craven Counties, Beaufort stands smack in the path of The Noise Monster. Their hard-hitting campaign for a parallel runway at Cherry Point instead of an OLF has made a strong impression on elected officials.

Officially, all proposed OLF sites are still under consideration, though Washington and Craven sites are listed as preferred in the DEIS. Opposition against all sites remains firm. Local, state and national media are covering environmental issues and dangers of bird strike. Major conservation groups--NC Audubon, Ducks Unlimited, NC Nature Conservancy, and Sierra Club--are joining the chorus of opposition to The Noise Monster.

The release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement is now expected late spring-early summer. Soon after, the Secretary of the Navy will announce his decision on what he will do with The Noise Monster.

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Why The Noise Monster Stalks Our Countryside

A tale of three air bases, big money stakes, power politics, and the voice of the people.

The story begins at Cecil Field Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida. Commissioned in 1941, the base became a pilot's last stop before combat in the Atlantic or Pacific. By the mid 1950's Cecil Field was the south's only Master Jet Base, its sprawling 31,000 acres buffering the noise from squadrons of Hornets when they arrived in the 1980's. Skip to 1993 and, despite hard lobbying and strong citizen support, Cecil Field is slated for closing. North Carolina's Cherry Point and Virginia's Oceana compete for Hornet squadrons from Cecil Field.

At 13,000 acres, with 16,000 acres of auxiliary facilities, Cherry Point is the world's largest marine air base. An outstanding spirit of pride and cooperation exist between the base and surrounding communities. The slogan at the main gate: Pardon our noise. It's the sound of freedom. Ward & Smith, attorneys, lobby for the Hornets. A parallel runway is planned. The planes are anticipated. But last-minute maneuvering by Virginia's Senator Warner resulted in loss of Hornets to Oceana in 1997, further concentrating military assets in coastal Virginia.

Oceana, at fewer than 7,000 acres, is about half the size of Cherry Point and a quarter the size of Cecil Field. It is feeling a crunch from rapidly encroaching residential development uncontrolled by proper city zoning. By 1998 the Navy is besieged by complaints from citizens over jet noise from Hornets. Citizens Concerned About Jet Noise is formed. It supports the idea of remote airfields and in 1999 launches a lawsuit against the Navy. But even while complaints escalate, residential communities, schools and shopping malls grow like topsy, and housing values appreciate to some pretty fancy six figures. Nobody seems to worry about accident potential.

Now comes the prospect of Super Hornets, four times noisier than Hornets. But what an economic plum! In June 2000 a Notice of Intent to prepare an environmental impact statement for introducing Super Hornets to the Atlantic fleet is posted in the Federal Register. An OLF is not mentioned in the Notice. Work begins and by summer 2002, the draft document will recommend that the 162 aircraft be split either 136-26 or 110-52, with Virginia getting the lion's share, a compromise strategy to exempt both bases from future closings.

North Carolina has lobbied hard for this. The Governor's Advisory Commission on Military Affairs has been charged with bringing home the Super Hornets. Ward & Smith works closely with the commission. Plans for the parallel runway are dusted off and will be well documented in the DEIS.

But in Virginia, the specter of The Noise Monster still persists, with over 140,000 touch and go landings at Fentress field, near Oceana, during 2000. Admiral Robert Natter, Commander of the Atlantic Fleet states that, "Precisely because of community concerns over jet noise," he is endorsing a remote training field "as the best solution for the Navy's concerns and our fellow neighbors in Hampton Roads." Sites in Virginia and North Carolina are explored. Apparently, "fellow neighbors" elsewhere are of lesser concern. With Senator John Warner pushing for all planes at Oceana, it appears that North Carolina must take an OLF if it wants any planes at all. Yet even with an OLF, aircraft noise at Oceana will not be reduced, as Admiral Natter suggests. All Super Hornets must take off and land at Oceana to use an OLF and will subject us to additional noise along flight paths.

In January 2002 the Navy notifies six counties here (none in Virginia) that they are candidates for an OLF. Carteret, adjacent to Cherry Point, with wealthy coastal communities, is promptly dropped. Eight months later the DEIS will recommend an OLF in Craven or Washington. The rush job may account for superficial treatment of OLF sites in the DEIS.

Meanwhile, Ward & Smith works with Craven County on its quest for Super Hornets and an OLF. The lawyers' draft statements are passed by two counties and several towns and read at the public hearing in Craven, where support is apparently unanimous. Absent from the hearing are the opinions of citizens who live near the proposed site in northwest Craven, miles away from Cherry Point in southeast Craven. The scenario is similar to Virginia's wanting to keep the money and dump the noise elsewhere, only this is one part of a county selling out another--along with its neighbor, Beaufort County.

In June 2002 the Northeast NC OLF Steering Committee representing six counties and four towns hires Ward and Smith to lobby against an OLF. From the outset they are told that an OLF is an inevitability, a surprisingly defeatist attitude for lobbyists who have been hired to represent our interests. The Committee meets regularly, but sessions with Ward & Smith are closed. Their letter will support squadrons at Cherry Point and an OLF in Craven County based on "unanimous" support there, with a brief statement that a parallel runway is preferable.

The Craven site is not likely to be the Navy's first choice. It is 102 miles from Oceana. Although the Navy can engineer just about anything, a high water table and clay soils that lack strength would require deep excavation, extensive fill and continuous pumping. On the other hand, the Washington site is only 72 miles from Oceana. Its wetlands are already drained, but danger of bird strike is severe. Loss of prime farmland would devastate the already depressed area.

If all squadrons are sited at Oceana, Perquimans County, only 37 miles south, prime farmland and bird habitat, comes back on the table. Equidistant between the two bases, Bertie County, despite high minority population and the rich Roanoke River wetlands complex, could be reconsidered. Hyde County, with expanding military operations, has severe danger of bird strike. The OLF roulette wheel is still turning.

According to the DEIS a parallel runway is unnecessary if 26 planes are based at Cherry Point. Only with 52 planes is a parallel runway needed. Concerns raised in the DEIS about loss of wetlands from construction would appear to be moot, since EPA is proposing to allow development in wetlands.

The final players are the people. Relentless public opposition surprises even the most seasoned observers and adds a critical dimension to the equation.

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AEA Requests Publication of a Revised DEIS

Members of AEA read the Draft Environmental Impact Statement with great disappointment over major deficiencies we found. Under NEPA, AEA requested that a revised DEIS be published for public comment. Alternatively, we requested that sections pertaining to an OLF in North Carolina be removed from consideration for inaccuracies and lack of substantiation. The full text of our letter can be found at: HTTP:// Below is a brief summary.

The need for an OLF is not adequately justified in the document. "Noise mitigation" at Oceana and Fentress, the stated reason for putting an OLF in North Carolina, turns out to be a myth. Virginia Beach residents will experience 25 percent more noise than they do now, even if an OLF is constructed in North Carolina.

The hefty document is verbose, repetitive, riddled with boiler-plate text, lacks clarity and is virtually unintelligible to the average citizen. Maps are unclear, lacking road names and structures. Without an Index the document is almost impossible to navigate. These are clear violations of NEPA provisions that require documents to be written concisely and clearly, with Indexing.

The OLF noise footprint does not appear to be a true representation of noise that can be expected. Clarification of methods used (a requirement of NEPA) to calculate the DNL is missing (see Footprint, page 5).

DNL noise readings for churches, schools and other public buildings should be provided for proposed OLF locations, particularly in view of the numbers of senior citizens and livestock farmers here. Historical structures should have noise levels stated in unaltered decibels which measure damaging low frequencies.

There is no meaningful discussion of future impacts to the area. What are possible future uses of an OLF for training? What is the maximum capacity? There is no discussion of how Navy acquisition of over 50,000 acres will contribute to loss of family farms, loss of wildlife and heritage, and loss of economic development.

The Navy's interpretation of the issue of environmental justice entirely misses the spirit and intent of NEPA and Executive Order 12898 and unfairly justifies shifting the pollutant-noise-from a prosperous community, Virginia Beach, to economically depressed counties in North Carolina (see Charts, below).

The data on risk of bird strike has been unrealistically manipulated to reduce apparent hazards. Methods of habitat alteration and area involved are not discussed in meaningful detail.

The discussion of accident potential is incomplete and misleading. Detailed data from the Navy Safety Center, recorded since 1980, should be included, particularly since the OLF is a training field.

The analysis of an OLF's impact on the environment in eastern North Carolina is superficial. It ignores the danger of wildfires and the rich and varied wildlife that inhabits these areas. It is impossible to estimate impacts on wildlife since inventories are missing.

The DEIS does not address issues raised by citizens and agencies during the scoping phase. Fuel dumping, effects of pollutants on crops, and long-term accumulation of pollutants in soil, rivers and streams are among many legitimate concerns which deserve answers.

Finally, OLF siting comes down to five core issues: (1) Can the Navy perform its operations without an OLF? (2) How much noise will the public have to endure? (3) What is the potential for accidents? (4) What damage can we expect to the natural environment? (5) How will future economic development be affected? The public has not received honest answers to these questions.

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AEA Questions Footprint of The Noise Monster

Something about The Noise Monster's footprint didn't make sense to us as we crunched the numbers. If you haven't seen The Monster's footprint superimposed on county maps, it's pictured as a series of zones surrounding the airstrip. The zones extend anywhere from one and a half to three miles out from the airstrip. This is the heart of The Noise Monster. It blankets 38,000 acres, or 60 square miles. Hm-m-m. Or does it?

In case you don't know what a DNL is (we didn't until The Noise Monster displayed its tonsils), it is emphatically not a scientific measure of noise. It is a calculation used by the FAA and military to predict how much people will be annoyed by aircraft noise. DNLs don't tell you anything about how loud the noise really is.

What isn't clear from reading the Navy's document is how DNL zones were calculated. The Navy doesn't tell us. Our calculations suggest that the Navy used the centerline of the runway as a basis for drawing the footprint. But during practice, the planes fly a loop that extends a mile and a half beyond the airstrip.

To accurately depict the noise zones, calculations should be made along the flight path of the plane. When this is done, the noise footprint extends a full three miles beyond what is shown on maps in the DEIS.

Flight specifics are important, too, and the Navy appears to be unrealistic in its projections. The footprint of The Noise Monster is calculated on a 24/7 basis. Yet, according to published schedules, operations at Fentress in Chesapeake do not take place seven days a week. Can we really believe Navy pilots will give up their weekends to practice at an OLF down here?

The thousand operations projected each week break down to 140 a day on a seven-day schedule, or 200 a day on a five-day schedule. DNLs are figured on a 24-hour basis. If you cram more flights into a single day, DNL values go up, and the footprint gets bigger. The highly impractical 24/7 schedule used by the Navy to calculate the footprint seems to be a strategy to artificially lower DNL values. Based on a 24/5 schedule, the footprint of the noise monster would expand considerably.

And finally, the DEIS does not give us any information about future use and maximum capacity of an OLF. Super Hornets will surely not be the only planes to use an OLF. Given the crescendo of complaints about noise in Virginia Beach over the years, we can expect newer-and noisier-planes to roll off the assembly line. And will practice always be limited to 51,000 operations a year? Fentress auxiliary field near Oceana handles almost triple that number of operations.

Fairly depicted, the noise footprint would cover a whole lot more than 60 square miles. We think the Navy is cramming a triple E foot into a double A footprint and trying to keep it a secret.

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AEA Launches New No OLF Post Card Campaign

It's time to light some fires to drive away The Noise Monster and let the Navy know we are still united in our opposition. Last fall AEA distributed and mailed over 2000 post cards from residents of nine counties who opposed an OLF in North Carolina.

To notch the heat up on the Navy, AEA is launching a second post card campaign, this time directed to the office of the Secretary of the Navy. The canary yellow cards (see text in box) will be distributed for signing, then returned to AEA for tabulation, stamping and mailing. To participate, contact AEA at 426-9563, 336-4778 or

AEA would appreciate any financial help toward printing and postage. Tax deductible donations can be sent to AEA, PO Box 1706, Elizabeth City, NC 27906.


This is a sample of the post card

No OLF in North Carolina


I live in _________________ County and I urge the Navy to use or expand existing facilities for training Super Hornet squadrons.


It is a waste of money to build an OLF when the military is planning to close bases, and existing facilities "were found to meet all the operational requirements" for training.


Dividing aircraft between Oceana/Fentress and Cherry Point with a parallel runway, keeps the noise with the money, reduces air pollution and noise in Virginia, minimizes the danger of bird strikes, saves taxpayer dollars, and makes an OLF unnecessary.


Thank you ______________________________


Please Keep Our Country Way of Life
and Our Environment Unspoiled




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NC Politicians Support Parallel Runway

It's been clear from the start that Virginia congressmen have weighed in heavily in favor of keeping all squadrons at Oceana with an OLF in North Carolina. Senator John Warner, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee appeared personally at the Virginia Beach public hearing to demonstrate his strong support.

Meanwhile, the silence of many North Carolina lawmakers was deafening for several months. A cynicism developed among many. It's a done deal, people said, with a growing feeling that our politicians cared more about jets at Cherry Point than the health and well being of our environment and people. Replies to letters adroitly skirted the issues. Yet citizen opposition to an OLF has topped all other state concerns in history.

We must here thank State Senator Marc Basnight for his unwavering support. The Senator sent letters to all North Carolina congressmen requesting "congressional intervention in removing eastern North Carolina counties from consideration of an OLF." His staff has done a herculean job of managing the issue--and the two thousand letters they received opposing an OLF.

We must also thank former Representative Eva Clayton who championed the people, putting the Navy on notice that decisions should be based on a meaningful NEPA process. Her successor, Congressman Frank Ballance, is equally firm in his opposition to an OLF.

Once the idea of a parallel runway at Cherry Point took off, it had to be reckoned with politically. Moments before the October deadline for public comment, eight of our Congressmen, including Representative Walter Jones, joined with then Senator Jesse Helms to announce support for Super Hornets at Cherry Point with a parallel runway, since the "burden of hosting new military training ought to be linked to substantial and concrete economic incentives in the affected region."

Later that month Governor Michael Easley and Senator John Edwards, both of whom had originally supported an OLF in Craven County, jumped on the band wagon and requested the Navy to fully explore the possibility of a parallel runway at Cherry Point. Newly elected Senator Elizabeth Dole, a member of the Armed Services Committee, is promoting a parallel runway to the Navy and the Department of Defense.

Now it remains to be seen: Which congressional delegation, Virginia or North Carolina, will go the extra mile for the well being of its constituents?

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Keep the Heat On

Let's keep the pressure on our federal officials by continuing to write or phone. Here is a suggested letter to use as is or as a basis for your own letter.

I am opposed to an OLF in North Carolina. I live in North Carolina because I like the peace and quiet here. I object to aircraft noise being brought into our economically depressed counties in order to relieve aircraft noise in the prosperous community of Virginia Beach. An OLF in any of our counties would permanently destroy the environment, drive wildlife away and mean the end of our appeal to tourists.

In your Draft Environmental Impact Statement you state that you do not need this facility to carry out your operations. This is a clear case of environmental injustice and a waste of taxpayer dollars. I am disappointed that the Navy would consider such a proposal. I urge the Navy to use existing military facilities or construct a parallel runway for its training.

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Important Contacts

President George W. Bush, The White House, Washington DC 20500; (202) 456-1414

The Honorable Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, Washington DC 20301; (703) 697-9080

Wayne Arny, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Installations and Facilities), 1000 Navy Pentagon, Room 4E765, Washington DC 20350; (703) 693-2734

Senator John Edwards, 225 Dirkson Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510; (202) 224-3154

Senator Elizabeth Dole, Washington DC 20510; (202) 224-6342

Representative Walter Jones, 422 Cannon House Office Building, Washington DC 20515; (202) 225-3415

Representative Frank Ballance, 413 Cannon Office Building, Washington DC 20515; (202) 225-3101

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Concerned About Jet Noise?

More aircraft activity means more noise. For information or to register a complaint, call Oceana at 757-433-2162 or Cherry Point at 252-466-2811.

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Sanctuary for Birds, Bears, And Us Threatened

Oh those birds! Those magnificent birds. More than a hundred thousand of them. Come for winter holiday to fields and ponds in northeast North Carolina. Tundra swan and snow geese from the far north, feeding, loafing around ponds, taking family day trips around the countryside, having a wonderful time wish you were here, before they go north to do the hard work of raising young during an arctic summer.

Why do they choose to come here? Well, think about who trundles across the Albemarle Pamlico Peninsula. Black bear. Deer. Red wolf. Probably panther. Who else? Photographers. Hunters. Canoeists. Astrono-mers. Wildlife biologists. Here there is space, solitude, peace away from the madding crowd, and acres and acres of darkness where stars glitter on a cold winter night.

The Navy describes this land as "prior converted," "disturbed," implying a lesser value than wetlands. Yes, man-made canals have drained land and farms replaced native plants. But grain crops are manna to these birds.

Originally, they fed on aquatic vegetation, but we messed that up all along the eastern seaboard, didn't we. So what's a hungry goose to do if it wants to survive? Try another entree. Today, once dwindling populations of swans and geese are thriving and 70 percent of eastern tundra swans winter around four proposed OLF sites. It's a glorious testimony to the resilience of wildlife.

The Navy has different plans for this patch of eden. Fifty thousand acres will be controlled as a buffer for the OLF--about one/quarter the area of Washington County or one/third that of Perquimans County. Since a mix of birds and planes are ingredients for catastrophe (the Navy Safety Center has recorded about 20,000 bird strikes since 1980), military BASH/BAM programs use strategies to make the area unattractive to birds. Habitat modification is high on the list. If you destroy feeding areas, birds will leave--but not all of them. The stubborn ones who get in the way get shot. (Don't worry, the paperwork will be in order.)

US Fish and Wildlife Service, deeply concerned, has taken the unusual measure of producing a brochure about the negative effects of an OLF on our wildlife refuges. Listen now to concerns of state personnel about weaknesses in the Navy's current management of its holdings, omissions in the draft document, and requests to remedy deficiencies in the final statement.

Environment and Natural Resources: No comprehensive plan to manage natural resources. No data available to assess health of ecological systems. No data on maximum training capacity. No data on impacts related to maximum use.

No data on current unused capacity which could be called into use. No foundation for understanding how much additional training would stress the environment. No cumulative analysis in the DEIS of future impacts of proposed activities.

Marine Fisheries: No assurance that aerial patrol will not be restricted. No data on the effects of hazardous materials on fisheries. No data on impacts to commercial and sport fishing. No discussion of post-crash procedures to contain contamination by toxic jet fuel, hydraulic oil.

Parks and Recreation: No consideration given to impacts of noise and low-level flights over state land. No discussion of these impacts on black bears, though the document cites potential impacts to polar bears. No recognition that state land is ecologically sensitive and provides more habitat than federal land. Requests that currently unprotected state land be given the same FAA fly-over protection as that given to wildlife refuges.

Wildlife Resources: Opposes or concerned with an OLF at all of the proposed sites. Little data on wildlife resources and wildlife-based recreation. Little recognition of the high density of big game animals, wildfowl populations, and growing wild turkey population at several sites, and the contiguous block of prime black bear habitat at Craven. Erroneous inferences, characterizations of wildlife and habitat based on scientific studies that do not apply.

No comprehensive field surveys. No description of aircraft approach/departure corridors to assess noise disturbance. No data on extent of habitat alteration. No discussion of potential severity of bird-aircraft collisions. No discussion of impact on eco-tourism or negative economic consequences. No analysis of existing military airfields that could be converted to an OLF.

Sadly, once our sanctuary is invaded, it is gone forever, along with the wildlife that makes our lands so special. Why does the Navy wish to destroy this wilderness, rich with wildlife, when existing facilities already meet all requirements for training?

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The Sounds of Silence on a Summer Day

Hush! The otters are playing on the dock again. We watch them in silence, still as stone, hardly daring to breathe lest the spell be broken. Seal-like, they lounge and roll and scratch their backs on the rough boards of the dock. Sometimes they tackle each other, race to the woods, then pop out for a new round of rough and tumble. A pocketful of joy. Oblivious to the world around.

Except for the larger, heavier one. A parent perhaps? No wrestling for her. She stretches lazily, abandoning herself to the warm sun, occasionally returning a playful nudge but not otherwise moving. Sharply she cocks her head, alert, listening intently. What does she hear, what does she sense that we cannot? She relaxes, apparently satisfied that this particular whisper of sound implies no danger. Then, on some pre-arranged signal, the family leaves, shedding their vulnerability on land, gliding into the dark embrace of the water.

A visitor watching with us is enthralled. You've got your own wildlife sanctuary here. We do, we say with pride. No wonder-it's so quiet. We laugh. Quiet? It may seem so now, but when those Canada geese get to honking. . . or the pileated woodpeckers are squawking signals to each other. . . or the Carolina wren is on the fence post outsinging every bird in the world. . . or the chickadees and titmice are scolding. . . or the heron flies up, rasping out his rackety complaint at some perceived interloper. . . or the osprey keen. . . or blue jays screech. . . or the big baby red-bellied woodpecker whines for food. . .or when hummingbirds buzz each other in territorial aerobatics. . . or insects carouse on a steamy August night. . .Why it's enough to wake a body from the dead.

That's not the kind of noise I mean, the visitor counters. No man-made noises, like planes and trains and trucks, no jackhammers or honking horns. Well, we demur, you are quite right, twice weekly lawn mowing and an occasional tree-lopping with a chain saw, but otherwise life is pretty tranquil here.

Those sounds from woods and stream - they tell us that everything is all right with the world. They're what we call the sounds of silence. We hardly notice them unless we want to tune into them. Sometimes we stop and listen hard and try to figure out what they can tell us about the secret lives of our neighbors. These are the sounds that belong here, and most of the time we hardly notice them.

There are some sounds we miss. The musical tremolo of the wood thrush carried on an evening breeze from some distant woods. What happened? Trees felled? A new house built? Doggone it, did he lose his privacy and have to leave? Instinctively, animals value anonymity, freedom to come and go, aloneness in the world (unless in herds or flocks), privacy when raising families.

We miss, too, the boisterous croaking of tree frogs serenading lady loves in their ditch digs. Now our well drained ditches don't appeal to frogs. We miss, too, the honeybee buzz around holly in spring and abelia in summer. Pesticides, pollutants and diseases have cut into the honeybees. Now they need drugs to survive.

We're the cause of most problems animals have. Clearing land, running noisy machines, polluting air and water, all these activities can drive animals away in ways we can't foresee. Some animals can adapt, but if not, if they can't find food or nest sites, and don't feel comfortable raising their young, then they go elsewhere-or disappear altogether. I hope we see the otters another day.

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Don't Take NEPA for Granted

The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, is the cornerstone of our environmental laws, a fundamental bulwark of democracy. Without NEPA, federal agencies would have license to do just about anything they wanted-log national forests, drill for oil on public lands, pave wetlands, or build an OLF-without answering to anyone.

NEPA is the tool that requires the Navy to lay out its plans and allows us to comment on them. But, frankly, NEPA is a pain in the neck to government agencies. They actually have to justify their plans to the public when the environment is at stake. How much easier for the military to plunk an OLF here and say, after the fact, "Trust us. It's a good thing."

The spirit of NEPA is expressed foremost in the quality of the environmental impact statement. Is data relevant? Meaningful? Understandable? Have alternative, less intrusive courses of action been considered? Are conclusions justified? When data is missing, or conclusions arrived at unfairly, then people must speak up in pursuit of fairness. If the system is working, these comments should figure into the final decision made by the agency. That is why it is so important for us to use this tool to raise our voices.

Having extolled the merits of NEPA, we must now report that NEPA is in trouble. The current administration and its allies in Congress are working to gut the Act. They want to allow dumping of wastes and drilling for oil in our rich off-shore oceans--without public scrutiny. Wildfires in our national forests would be "prevented" by giving the timber industry carte blanche to clear cut--without public scrutiny. High priority road-building projects would move through a newly "streamlined" permitting process--without public scrutiny. And the military, too, wants to be exempt from NEPA.

How or if current initiatives in Washington will affect our environmental future is unclear. Be sure to include a thumbs up for NEPA in your correspondence to elected officials.

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