Navy meeting on proposed electronic warfare range packed with opponents
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Representatives of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Forest Service, rear, listen to questions and comments from the public during Thursday night’s forum in the Port Angeles City Council chambers. —Photo by Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — A proposal to establish an electromagnetic radiation-based Navy warfare range that includes the North Olympic Peninsula was greeted with jeers and opposition Thursday night in packed City Hall council chambers overflowing with opponents.

No one among three dozen speakers, many of whom were from Port Townsend, spoke in favor of the aerial warfare training project during what federal officials had termed a two-hour question-and-answer forum.

Instead, the overflow crowd hooted and hollered with distrust at repeated reassurances by John Mosher, U.S. Pacific Fleet Northwest Environmental program manager, and Kent Mathes, Northwest Training Range Complex program manager, that enough safeguards would be in place to protect people and wildlife.

There were enough seats for 115 people in the City County chambers and the hallway, and many participants were left standing or sat on the floor.

Almost every speaker prefaced their questions with statements of opposition to the project.

“What makes you think current findings are thorough, and what will you do to satisfy the safety requirements of the public?” asked one woman.

The U.S. Forest Service is considering a special-use permit to allow access to 15 logging-road sites in Olympic National Forest on which three camper-sized Navy vehicles would be dispersed.

A fourth emitter would be at a fixed site at the Navy base at Pacific Beach.

The trucks, equipped with antennas mounted 14 feet off the ground, would be emit electromagnetic radiation as part of simulated targeting exercises performed by Whidbey Naval Air Station pilots trying to locate the emitters’ electronic signatures.

The purpose of the training to practice denying the enemy “all possible frequencies of electromagnetic radiation (i.e., electromagnetic energy) for use in such applications as communication systems, navigation systems and defense related systems and components,” according to the Navy’s environmental assessment.

Mosher estimated that there would be up to a 10 percent increase in flights.

He said the emitters would focus a beam upward, above the horizon.

Someone could be hurt if they stand within 32 feet of the emitter’s path for more than 18 minutes, he said.

There would be a 101-foot perimeter around the camper-sized vehicles, which would be intermittently stationed in the remote areas.

Signals would be shut down if people or wildlife are in the area for an extended period of time, Mosher said.

“It would be physically impossible for someone to be in a position to be in a hazardous situation based on those injury standards for those emission sources,” Mosher said.

A woman who spoke following Mosher’s reassurances said she wasn’t persuaded.

“If you let this grow, I will physically stop you,” she said.

The Navy’s environmental assessment found no significant impact from the $11.5 million warfare training project.

The deadline on comments to the Forest Service on the special-use permit required for the project has been extended to Nov. 28.

Public comments can be emailed to Forest Service environmental coordinator Greg Wahl at gtwahl@fs.fed.us or sent to Wahl at 1835 Black Lake Blvd. S.W., Olympia, WA 98512.

The comments at Thursday’s forum were not recorded and will not be part of the official record, officials said at the beginning of the meeting.

That, too, incensed the crowd and set the tone for the next two hours.

The Navy’s environmental assessment for the project, which found no significant impact, can be seen at http://tinyurl.com/PDN-Electrowarfare.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: November 07. 2014 10:32AM
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