Navy ends consultation on historic resources in sonar, explosives testing zone that includes Strait of Juan de Fuca

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

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By Paul Gottlieb

Peninsula Daily News

The federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation is getting involved in a dispute between state and Navy officials over cultural and historical resources in a broad area, including the Strait of Juan de Fuca, that has been targeted for sonar and explosives training and testing.

The testing area also includes Puget Sound and the Behm Canal in southeastern Alaska.

The Navy notified state Historic Preservation Officer Allyson Brooks — referred to as the SHPO — last Thursday that military officials had finished consulting with her on potential adverse effects to the resources, according to a Nov. 5 letter from Larry M. Foster, director of environmental readiness for the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Brooks' response was that she was “stunned.”

Foster wrote: “To date, the SHPO has not communicated specific disagreement with the Navy's finding of no adverse effect within the agreed upon APE [Area of Potential Effect] for the NWTT [Northwest Training and Testing] undertaking.”

An environmental impact statement on the training and testing area determined that the activities would have no adverse impacts, the Navy said.

“Because the 30-day review period closed without an objection from SHPO and no written disagreement or specific objection has been made regarding historic properties with the agreed upon APE, the Navy considers this consultation complete,” Foster wrote.

Brooks wrote a response dated Nov. 6 to Foster and to William R. Manley, the acting Navy deputy federal preservation officer in Washington, D.C.

Her office falls under the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP).

“While we appreciate the Navy's working with the DAHP from 2012 to the present, the communications cited in your letter dismiss the numerous and ongoing exchange of emails, telephone calls and conference calls made in a good-faith effort to sort out the complexities of the proposal and gain a better understanding of the potential effects to cultural resources,” Brooks said in her response.

Brooks said Monday she had been consulting with Navy personnel from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, not Pearl Harbor.

“It was shocking to get the letter from Pearl Harbor when all the work was being done with Whidbey Naval Air Station,” Brooks said.

“It was very strange.”

The federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation oversees federal compliance with what has been known as Section 106 (now Section 306108) of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

The law requires federal agencies to “take into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties, and afford the Advisory County on Historic Preservation a reasonable opportunity to comment,” according to the agency's website at www.achp.gov.

Agency spokesman Bruce Milhans said Tuesday that the council is “going to look at the situation and get back to the SHPO and the Navy.”

Milhans said that could happen as soon as Friday, but he added the agency is not likely to complete an assessment by that time.

“We haven't started looking into what the situation is,” he said.

“I wouldn't say we will review the [Navy's] decision.

“I can't comment on any specifics.”

Navy spokeswoman Sheila Murray said Monday in an email that the Navy's “record of decision” on which alternative the Navy will select for the Northwest Training and Testing will be announced by Dec. 31.

It had been reported that the actual deadline was Friday, Nov. 6, about 30 days after the early October release of the final environmental impact statement (EIS).

“The regulation provides a 30-day wait period after the EIS is published,” she said Tuesday in an interview.

That does not necessarily mean that a record of decision is issued 30 days later.

That means “we don't do anything before that,” Murray said.

“They are still in the process of completing their analysis and getting their information.”

Regarding Brooks' objections, Murray said the decision of no adverse impact to historic and cultural properties was made after thorough study.

“Very little has changed with the actions that are proposed and where they will occur from what was assessed and concurred with by SHPO in the past,” Murray said in an email.

Brooks had proposed that a “programmatic agreement” be drawn up between her office and the Navy under which a permit could be issued, but a cultural resources study also could be conducted, Brooks said Tuesday.

If resources such as shipwrecks and landscapes were compromised by the test explosions, Brooks was confident the impacts could be mitigated.

“No one was trying to stop the Navy from doing training,” she insisted.

But Murray said the Navy rejected Brooks' proposal.

“The Navy diligently considered the SHPO's proposal for a programmatic agreement; however, upon further consideration and discussion with Advisory Council on Historic Preservation staff, it was determined to not be an appropriate or viable course of action due to the regulatory requirements for such an agreement,” Murray said in her email Monday.

Brooks said Tuesday that was news to her.

“All I did was get that letter out of the blue saying, 'We are done, thanks,'” she said.

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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 10. 2015 7:27PM
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