State agency opting out, but it won't delay Navy in pursuing electronic warfare project
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The Navy has deleted sites 3, 12 and 14 from its proposal after the state Department of Natural Resources opted out of allowing its lands for electronic warfare training. —Map by Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

By Chris McDaniel
Peninsula Daily News

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OLYMPIA — The state Department of Natural Resources' decision not to be involved in a Navy proposal to conduct electronic warfare training on the West End of the North Olympic Peninsula won't delay the project, the Navy says.

DNR announced the last day of February that it wasn't interested in allowing its land to be used for the training.

Three of the 15 sites the Navy had tagged in the Olympic Military Operations Area for the $11.5 million project are on forested DNR land in West Jefferson County southeast of Forks.

The Navy will make do with 12 locations in Olympic National Forest in western Clallam, Jefferson and Grays Harbor counties if a permit is issued for their use, according to Liane Nakahara, Navy public affairs officer.

The Navy will not apply for a permit on DNR land for the sites identified in Navy documents as 3, 12 and 14.

“We believe the three sites identified on DNR land would add value to our ability to train more effectively, but use of the mobile signal transmitter vehicles on DNR lands was only one part of the proposal,” Nakahara said.

“The other enhancements to the training are proceeding ahead as planned,” she said.

The Navy wants to use the sites beginning this September.

The project would use mobile emitters of electromagnetic radiation for training that Boeing EA-18G Growler crews stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island currently simulate with internal aircraft controls.

Aircraft from NAS Whidbey Island would target electromagnetic radiation from emitters affixed to up to three camper-sized vehicles that would move from site to site.

The Growler crews would practice detecting the signals for as many as 16 hours a day, 260 days a year.

Concerns about noise from jets

Concerns about the potential noise as the jets flew over the Olympic Peninsula was one factor in DNR's decision, according to Matthew Randazzo, senior adviser to the commissioner of public lands and a former Port Angeles resident.

Others were the stringent opposition from those Peninsula residents who are concerned about possible health hazards from the use of electromagnetic radiation and about noise and the outreach processes the Navy had used, which many have said were insufficient.

“In addition to our sensitivity to the passionate public opposition in the Olympic Peninsula, DNR leadership also developed serious concerns regarding the regulatory and outreach processes conducted by the Navy and Forest Service, as well as concerns regarding the lack of environmental assessment on how noise pollution from increased fly-overs by Navy aircraft would impact endangered species habitat on DNR land,” Randazzo said.

And while DNR “certainly responded to the public concern from members of the Olympic Peninsula . . . there was no organized environmental group lobbying” that influenced the decision, Randazzo noted.

He said the decision to abandon the project was not a slight to the Navy.

“We have completed many projects with them as partners that have been really successful,” he said, citing a 2014 Hood Canal Easement project and a series of upland conservation projects through the federal Department of Defense's Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration program.

DNR has “great respect for the Navy and their national security mission, and consider them one of our most important partners,” he said.

“This was just one of the projects we weren't interested in pursuing.

“We continue to have a good relationship and open dialogue with Navy leadership, but there is no further discussion planned at this time on this issue.”

The Navy has applied for a national forest permit for the use of 12 sites identified in the 2014 environmental assessment.

“The Navy has not identified any additional sites beyond those studied in the environmental assessment,” Nakahara said.

Decision soon by Forest Service

Dean Millett, Pacific District ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, said he expects to make a draft decision on a special-use road permit for the Olympic Peninsula locations by the middle of this year.

Glen A. Sachet, Forest Service regional issues manager for the Pacific Northwest Region, said the agency is analyzing the 3,314 comments on the project.

They can be reviewed at http://tinyurl.com/pdn-navycomments.

“The comments will be considered in the final decision on whether to issue a special-use permit and what the scope of activities potentially authorized by a special-use permit would be,” Sachet said.

Those who submitted feedback during the comment period will have 45 days to object to the decision before a permit could be issued.

The Navy says that when they are in operation, the trucks — which would be kept at Navy facilities in Pacific Beach in Grays Harbor County — would be surrounded by taped-off, 101-foot perimeters.

The radiation would not impact people or wildlife, partly because the trucks' antennas would emit radiation straight up into the sky, the Navy has said.

Training also would be done on national forest land in two other areas of the state, with two trucks in the Okanagan Military Operations Area in north-central Washington and six in the Roosevelt Military Operations Area in northeastern Washington.

“We understand that there continues to be a lot of misinformation circulating about the Navy's electronic warfare training,” Nakahara said.

She invited the public to visit http://tinyurl.com/PDN-navyplans, http://tinyurl.com/mht9wcl and http://tinyurl.com/pn8ux88 for more information.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Chris McDaniel can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, cmcdaniel@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: April 11. 2015 9:28PM
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