Rep. Kilmer fields concerns over electronic warfare training during Port Townsend meeting
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U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, left, listens to concerns about the Navy’s proposed Growler expansion from Michael Monson of Whidbey Island after a meeting in Port Townsend. — Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT TOWNSEND — Opposition to a program that would use roads in Olympic National Forest for electronic warfare exercises on the West End dominated U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer’s recent town hall meeting.

While not taking a stand on the proposal itself, Kilmer criticized the public process.

“I believe the Navy did not do an adequate job of communicating, particularly about the electronic warfare,” the Gig Harbor Democrat said at last Friday’s gathering.

More than 100 people gathered for the meeting in Fort Worden Commons.

Kilmer is conducting a series of six town hall meetings in counties in the 6th Congressional District, which he represents, as he begins his second term.

The Jefferson County public meeting was the second of the series, after a town hall meeting in Tacoma on Thursday.

He has scheduled a Clallam County town hall meeting at 5 p.m. this coming Friday in the Little Theater on the Peninsula College campus at 1502 E Lauridsen Blvd., Port Angeles.

Other meetings are set this month in Belfair, Poulsbo and Westport.

To train pilots in electronic warfare, the Navy is seeking a U.S. Forest Service special-use permit to allow access to 15 logging-road sites in Olympic National Forest on which three camper-sized Navy vehicles with emitters 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 emit electromagnetic radiation as part of simulated targeting exercises performed by Whidbey Naval Air Station pilots trying to locate the emitters’ electronic signatures.

The comment period for the special-use permit for use of Forest Service roads closed Nov. 28. A decision is expected by the middle of this year at the earliest.

A separate proposal to add up to 36 EA-18G Growler jets to the 82 currently based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island is also in process.

The comment period for the Growler draft environmental impact statement closed Jan. 9.

Some Peninsula residents, including several at the meeting with Kilmer, feel the two proposals should not be treated separately.

The Port Townsend City Council said as much in a letter commenting on the Growler proposal.

The letter also said that two other public processes should not have been separated: the environmental assessment on the proposed use of Olympic National Forest roads for the electronic warfare range — for which public comment closed in August — and a supplement to the draft environmental impact statement on the Northwest Training and Testing zone, for which public comment closes Feb. 2.

Kilmer said that his discussions with the Navy about the proposed Forest Service permit resulted in heavily attended public hearings in Forks and Port Angeles.

Most at the meetings opposed the permit for the electronic warfare training.

“We’ve been gathering information and have asked a bunch of questions,” Kilmer said.

“We’ve received some responses from the Navy about how are these trucks going to get used and what kind of signals or flights we can see, and many of those questions have been generated by you,” he added.

Kilmer said the relationship between the Navy and the North Olympic Peninsula was long-standing and valuable.

“Whether this gets approved or not is not the end of the story,” he said.

“We have an ongoing process, and these are our ongoing neighbors.”

Queries were mostly critical of both the project and the process.

“As much as 95 percent of Olympic National Park is designated as federal wilderness,” Forest Shomer of Port Townsend said.

“Why don’t we cut to the chase to get our air space over Olympic National Park, our national shores and wildlife areas designated as quiet airspace with no activity?”

Liz Rivera Goldstein of Port Townsend said that “I don’t feel we were heard during the Navy’s process.

“I would have liked to see a true hearing where the people of the community can hear each other and each other’s concerns instead of a dog-and-pony show put on by the Navy, where they tell us ‘it’s happening, it’s just a question of how big.’”

Kilmer said that his office will “continue to ask the Navy to both solicit public input and respond to public input as much as we can.

“I think that’s an important part of being a good neighbor.”

Bill Taylor of Port Townsend extended the neighbor comparison.

“To a certain extent, you have to put up with the noise and other things coming from your neighbors. We all have to do it,” Taylor said.

His comment prompted loud responses from the crowd.

“Let me finish,” he said.

“We need to be sure that these people are adequately trained, adequately funded and given the best equipment possible. This is shared sacrifice.”

Said Kilmer: “There is an appropriate desire to ensure the men and women who are being asked to do very dangerous tasks and being placed in harm’s way are able to get properly trained.

“At the same time, there is a desire to ensure that the Navy is a good neighbor in terms of addressing questions and concerns by their neighbors who might be affected.”

Information on the supplement to the Northwest Training and Testing Draft Environmental Impact Statement — which concerns use of sonar and explosives — is at http://tinyurl.com/PDN-supplementnavytraining.

Written comments on the supplement may be submitted via the project website or by mail to Naval Facilities Engineering Command Northwest, Attn: Ms. Kimberly Kler — NWTT EIS/OEIS Project Manager, 1101 Tautog Circle, Suite 203, Silverdale, WA 98315-1101.

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 18. 2015 7:42PM
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