Forest Service crafting responses to thousands of comments on naval electronic warfare exercises plan
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An EA-18G Growler assigned to Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 129 lands on Naval Air Station Whidbey Island’s Ault Field. — U.S. Navy

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — The U.S. Forest Service is completing final draft responses to thousands of mostly negative comments directed at plans for expanded naval electronic warfare exercises over the North Olympic Peninsula, including Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest.

But if you submitted one of the 3,397 correspondences on the $11.5 million Pacific Northwest Electronic Warfare Training Range project, don't expect a response specifically to your submission.

Greg Wahl, Olympic National Forest environmental coordinator, said this week that the agency is writing final drafts of up to about 100 general responses to the thousands of comments submitted by Nov. 28.

“We have compiled themes for a couple thousand [comments] we received,” Wahl said.

“The majority could be labeled as concerned with the project or against it.

“There were certainly comments supporting it, though,” Wahl said.

“The process is really to flush out what are the main themes, what are the main issues, from a copious amount of comments and to get to the heart of what the concern is.”

Wahl said a Portland, Ore., company compiled the comments for about $30,000 after agency staff were overwhelmed by the responses.

Navy officials also will review the draft responses before they are finalized.

The Navy is seeking a special-use permit from the agency to deploy — on 12 Olympic National Forest roads — three camper-size vehicles that would emit electromagnetic signals.

The trucks would engage in real-time exercises with radar-jamming jet pilots from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island who now train from within the confines of the cockpit.

The Navy's environmental assessment of the project concluded the activity, which includes the emission of electromagnetic radiation, would not result in significant environmental impacts.

The roads lie below the Olympic Military Operations Area, an umbrella of naval air space that extends from Olympic National Park west to the coast and from the Strait of Juan de Fuca south to Grays Harbor County.

It also includes portions of Clallam and Jefferson counties.

Wahl said the Forest Service will issue a draft decision on the permit this spring, at the same time that commenters should receive final responses to their missives.

One form of comment was a petition opposing the project with a reported 110,000 signatures.

It was submitted to the Forest Service in September and cited noise and health impacts as main concerns.

Wahl said the worries received seemed to be, in order of volume, the impact from jet noise, the effect on human health and safety, and what the electromagnetic warfare project might do to flora and fauna.

Navy officials have said the jet flights over the military operations area would increase by up to 10 percent, another assertion disputed by critics who say the percentage is far greater.

Wahl said the Forest Service already has experience with the Navy's mobile emitters on Olympic National Forest roads interacting with radar-jamming jets.

The agency issued special-use permits to the Navy several years ago to conduct preliminary testing for a limited time.

“I'm not that aware of any impacts,” Wahl said.

Release of the comments and final draft decision will be followed by a 45-day objection period and another 45-day “resolution” period, after which a decision will be issued.

The resolution period can be extended by an additional 30 days.

Information on the project is available at http://tinyurl.com/PDN-electwarfare.

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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: January 08. 2016 4:09PM
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