Port Angeles, Washington — The Navy’s environmental assessment for what it wants to do in the deep harbor of Ediz Hook has scads of maps, charts diagrams and variations on proposed structures. Almost 300 pages. [Read “Transit Protection System Pier and Support Facilities at Coast Guard Station Port Angeles” on line.]
But there’s a lot it doesn’t say. For instance, the stated reason for an estimated $16.7 million in taxpayer funded new construction is to provide a place where Coast Guard folks can rest between trips. But how has this need suddenly arisen? There’s been no change in the distance between Port Angeles and Bangor. No reduction in amenities in the vessels shuttling along the Strait o Juan de Fuca. No rearrangement of the number of hours in the day or, presumably, in the military’s ability to compile schedules and duty rosters.
According to the Navy’s fourth proposal, facilities on Ediz Hook should include:
■ A trestle 355 feet long and 24 feet wide.
■ A fixed pier at the end of the trestle, 160 feet long and 42 feet wide, where 250-foot “blocking vessels” would tie up.
■ Two floats 80 feet long and 17 feet wide on the west side of the pier, one float 120 feet long and 12 feet wide on the east side of the pier, where an 87-foot “reaction vessel” and several 64- and 33-foot “screening vessels” would be moored.
■ An 8,200-square-foot “Alert Forces Facility” — offices and quarters for 20-30 personnel.
■ A 200-square-foot “Ready Service Armory” to store small arms and ammunition.
■ A double-walled, 10,000-gallon fuel tank.=[
■ A 2,864-square-foot parking area for fuel trucks.
■ An additional 5,500 square feet covered with impermeable paving.
That’s one heck of a nap room.
Forward planning, they say – without specifying what future is being planned for. Increased security – because of the 2000 attack on the USS COLE — they say. But what of the security of the civilian communities nearby?
The risks to Port Angeles are monumental. Impossible to predict and/or quantify. And the Navy has already proven it’s willing to run roughshod over tribal and civilian concerns in numerous ways. [See: WestCoastActionAlliance.org]
THE SQUID STRATEGY
Deliberately splitting projects into multiple processes hides the big picture in squid-like clouds of ink, confusing the public, overloading federal and state agencies that should be consulted, and making legal remedies ineffective.
The facilities at Port Angeles and Bangor are actually interconnected parts of a larger Transit Protection System — but when it comes to evaluating them and the impacts of their construction, each is evaluated separately. Why?
The screening and escort vessels originate at Bangor, escort submarines to the dive-point at the western end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca; then, according to future plans, they will stop at Port Angeles, where crews can rest before the return to Bangor.
Clearly, this fits the legal criterion as a connected action. Yet the Navy has intentionally segmented this construction and its pile-driving into separate NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act) processes. Dividing up the full scope of interconnected environmental impacts into many pieces helps to hide their full magnitude from public scrutiny.
WILL WE BE MORE SECURE?
Why include a whole armory and a fuel storage tank on a sea-level spit — a location that could not possibly be more vulnerable to damage by a tsunami? Or even El Nino-enhanced waves and high tides? A site where any serious weather disturbances could unleash the potential to wipe out the entire downtown and/or the regional hospital?
Constructing this armored, militarized break area would require drilling and pile driving in the seabed. A seabed covered with a who-knows-how-deep layer of toxic industrial contamination from nearly a century of paper mill operations and the city’s historic stormwater and sewage overflows. The state of Washington rates the waters of Port Angeles Harbor “impaired” due to low dissolved oxygen levels under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act (CWA) (EPA 2004).
Pollutants in the harbor pose a threat to human health and the environment, to fisheries, shellfish beds, and the people that depend on them. These toxins include PCBs, dioxins and furans — chemicals and potential carcinogens that are endocrine disruptors that may cause reproductive and development effects. They are stored in fatty tissues and accumulate as they move up the marine food chain. They come from both natural and man-made sources, such as forest fires and burning seawater-soaked wood, garbage burning, and industrial incinerators, chlorine bleaching, and other industrial processes. Most of the dioxin contamination in the harbor appears to be a chemical legacy from past industrial practices.
Pile driving is hugely disruptive to marine life, creating serious noise-induced impacts on marine mammals, endangered fish and sea birds such as the Steller sea lion, bull trout, and marbled murrelet. The sound, carried and amplified by water, may affect Chinook, steelhead, chum, and sturgeon.
According to a study published by the Acoustical Society of America, “The intense sound impulses of the impact piling are likely to disrupt the behavior of marine mammals at ranges of many kilometers.” The sound can drive away seals and crabs, whales and orcas — which may or may not return — and could create untold damage to sea creatures that can’t leave the area.
Pile driving is a dicey proposition in geologically active areas like the Hook, which is daily being reshaped by the Elwha River, which created the spit in the first place. We’ve been warned about the Cascadia Subduction Zone. And what of the Juan de Fuca Ridge — an underwater volcanic mountain range off Washington’s coast that’s continually growing as the Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Plate separate?
The Earth really is alive, and rarely are places more geologically active than where we’re located. One lesson the environment teaches us, over and over, is that everything is connected.
EELGRASS: THE MEADOWS OF THE OCEANS
The Navy admits its proposed piers, trestles and walkways will destroy acres of eelgrass – which is not seaweed but a flowering perennial plant. Healthy eelgrass beds create dense underwater meadows that provide habitat for invertebrate like crab, food and cover for myriad species and a substrate for diatoms and algae to grow. These systems rival the world’s richest farmlands in terms of their ecological and economic value.
“All action alternatives would include compensatory mitigation for the loss of aquatic resources and mitigation for impacts on treaty reserved rights and resources” the Navy’s document proclaims. But they admit there’s no way to mitigate the loss of eelgrass.
As for treaty rights and cultural resources, the Lower Elwha Klallam have lived on and used Ediz Hook from the tribe’s earliest origins. The Navy has already demonstrated its disregard for these resources when it blew off the State Historic Preservation Office and Dr. Allyson Brooks, head of the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. In a December 10 piece, ”Kafka would have been pleased to write this story,” the West Coast Action Alliance outlines this months-long sequence of Navy actions.
ANOTHER SHUT UP AND LISTEN SESSION
At a public meeting set for January 12, the Navy will present information, answer questions and accept written comments from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Elks Naval Lodge, 131 E. First St. No oral comments will be accepted.
We should be asking the Navy: why can’t you tell it to us straight? What is the full scope of the multiple impacts from all of the projects you should be evaluating together?
Could the future include some sort of antimagnetic “garage” be built to temporarily dock nuclear subs in the Port Angeles harbor?
Deliberately splitting projects into multiple NEPA processes means that if you manage to halt, slow, modify or mitigate one project, the others still move forward.
Written comments may be emailed to NWNEPA@navy.mil or sent to Naval Facilities Engineering Command Northwest; Attention: NEPA Project Manager/TPS Facilities; 1101 Tautog Circle, Room 203; Silverdale, WA 98315-1101.