Tag Archives: Navy

Navy extends easement plans to Kitsap County

The Navy is continuing its efforts to control commercial over-water structures in Hood Canal. The idea is to buy subtidal conservation easements from the Washington Department of Natural Resources, which owns these deep-water areas.

Proposed Navy easement in Jefferson County
Proposed Navy easement in Jefferson County

The first easement was proposed for the Jefferson County side of Hood Canal (map at right). The easement application is now working its way through a formal review process. The proposal received a lot of attention when it was announced in May, in part because of the potential to derail the controversial pit-to-pier project. A story I wrote for the Kitsap Sun on May 15 describes the overall goals of the Navy’s program and its potential effects.

After that initial announcement, I was surprised that the Navy and DNR seemed reluctant to talk about the next phase, which turned out to be a second easement along the Kitsap County shoreline from the Hood Canal bridge to the county line near Holly. I described that proposal in a story I wrote for the Kitsap Sun yesterday (subscription).

Both proposed easements fall under the Department of Defense Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative (REPI).

Liane Nakahara, spokeswoman for Navy Region Northwest, said the need for the Kitsap easement, like the one in Jefferson County, relates to protections of Navy operations, including testing and training in legally defined ranges:

“The proposed restrictive easement over the bedlands would protect these ranges from incompatible development that may limit the Navy’s ability to use the approved ranges and continue operations in the future. In addition to the protection of the Navy’s military operating areas, the proposed easement will provide new protections for sensitive marine ecosystems.”

I’m not sure where the Navy will go with its next easement proposal. Work continues on upland properties in some areas. See reporter Ed Friedrich’s story about a related agreement two years ago, when the Navy began buying easements in the Dabob Bay area of Hood Canal (Kitsap Sun, Oct. 8, 2011). Officials are saying almost nothing about the next steps. But I have seen a map that purportedly shows the “area of interest” regarding the Navy’s REPI efforts. The area outlined includes all of Hood Canal and the regions around Indian Island, Keyport and Bremerton.

The Navy had an initial allocation of $3 million in 2011 for encroachment protection, and additional funds were added in 2012 and 2013, according to Liane Nakahara. Partners in the endeavor so far include DNR, The Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Lands. For background on how the partnership works, check out “Partner’s Guide to the Department of Defense’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative” (REPI)(PDF 1.9 mb).

For the Jefferson County easement, the DNR issued a “determination of nonsignificance” during the environmental review. An appraiser has been hired to estimate the value of the easement and determine what the Navy should pay the state for lost revenue.

Thorndyke Resource, which proposed the pit-to-pier project, has been pushing for increased environmental review, rather than the limited review undertaken so far by the DNR. It appears that if the proposal moves forward, the Navy and DNR are likely to face a lawsuit from the company.

Here are three recent documents related to the proposed Jefferson County easement:

Navy easement could block industry on Hood Canal

An easement requested by the Navy to prevent industrial development along the western shoreline of Hood Canal appears to be the first of its kind in Washington state.

One can envision this easement as a strip of underwater area from the Hood Canal bridge south to a spot just south of the Jefferson-Mason County line near Eldon, as I described in a Kitsap Sun story on May 15.

Easement

In most areas, the protected bedlands will be defined by their depths, from 18 feet below the average low tide to 70 feet down. More than 4,000 acres of state-owned bedlands would be covered by the easement.

“The practical effect of the agreement will be to preclude new near-shore commercial or industrial construction along the areas of the Hood Canal and neighboring waterways managed by DNR where the Navy operates,” states a joint press release issued by the Navy along with the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

It was quickly recognized that this could mean the end of the controversial pit-to-pier project for loading gravel onto ships and barges. If the developer, Thorndyke Resource, is unable to obtain a state lease for the proposed pier, the project would be dead in the water. The company, which has been working on the project for years, does not intend to give up without a fight.

Since the story first came out, the Navy has been preparing to conduct an appraisal, which will involve hiring an independent contractor, according to Liane Nakahara, spokeswoman for Navy Region Northwest. Once the appraisal work begins, it will take at least a couple months to complete, she said. Then the Navy and DNR must each approve the appraisal results.

I can’t imagine how difficult it will be to estimate how much money the state could lose by locking up this strip of underwater area for decades. If the pit-to-pier project were a certainty, then it would be easier to figure out how much revenue the state would lose by blocking that one lease. But what would be the probability of the pit-to-pier project getting all the required permits if the easement were not a factor?

What other types of development would be foreclosed by the Navy’s easement along Hood Canal, and where might these projects be located? If one could assume that the Jefferson County shoreline of Hood Canal would never be developed with marinas or piers anyway, then the loss would be zero and the Navy’s easement would be cheap. These are the questions that will drive an appraiser crazy.

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Gov. prepares to ‘pass the baton’ on Puget Sound

Nobody doubts the passion that Gov. Chris Gregoire holds for Puget Sound or that she was instrumental in setting up the Puget Sound Partnership, which has charted a course for restoration.

But how will the work to protect Puget Sound proceed under a new governor?


Gov. Chris Gregoire (right) praises a new environmental mitigation program during a tour of Hood Canal aboard the Coast Guard cutter Sea Devil. Looking on are Martha Kongsgaard (left), chairwoman of the Puget Sound Leadership Council, and Gail Terzi, mitigation program manager with Seattle District Army Corps of Engineers.
Kitsap Sun photo by Christopher Dunagan

It’s an issue that has not been discussed much in the ongoing governor’s race. (I need to question the candidates on this issue.) But I had a chance yesterday to chat with the governor over coffee (she had tea) in the galley of the Coast Guard cutter Sea Devil on the way to Dabob Bay.

“I created it, so the next governor can uncreate it,” Gregoire told me simply, a comment I reported in today’s Kitsap Sun.

Still, she said, the partnership fills a need in coordinating the work of many government agencies, businesses and private groups. The effort has increased awareness and provided accountability needed to bring restoration dollars to the region. She seemed to be saying that whatever management structure is used, coordination will remain essential to the effort.

Gregoire filled me in on a story I had never heard before, one she later repeated for the 15 or so visitors on the boat ride across Hood Canal. It was about how the Puget Sound Partnership grew from a spark of an idea that erupted over a lunch with U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks.

“We were excited and got quite loud, as you can imagine with Norm Dicks,” she said. “It was quite a shouting match, and everyone in the restaurant was watching us.”

After that lunch, Gregoire called on Bill Ruckelshaus, former director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to head a study commission leading up to formation of the Puget Sound Partnership, as I reported in today’s story.

Both Gregoire and Dicks will leave office at the end of the year, and the governor says she is ready to pass the baton to others.

The reason for yesterday’s boat ride was to celebrate a new in-lieu-fee mitigation program for Hood Canal, which could be a model for other parts of Puget Sound and, as some suggested yesterday, for the entire nation.

The idea is that developers would pay a flat fee rather than construct a mitigation project on their own. Money could be pooled, if necessary, to promote significant long-term ecological protections.

The Navy is expected to jump-start the effort with several million dollars for mitigation of damage from its proposed $715-million explosives handling wharf to service submarines at Bangor on Hood Canal.

Rather than rehash all the work that has gone into fashioning this rare mitigation program, I’ll refer you to my stories and other sources. One thing to note is that the mitigation plan — outlined in a document called an “instrument” — includes a complex accounting system to keep track of the money as well as ecological debits and credits. It’s all geared to ensure that the environmental damage from development is fully compensated in ecological functions.

Here are some links for further reading:

May 9, 2011: Hood Canal council could get millions from Navy for mitigation projects

Sept. 1, 2011: Mitigation program could work for counties

May 10, 2012: Navy selects builders for second explosives handling wharf

May 18, 2012: Second explosives handling wharf gets final approval

June 1, 2012: Hood Canal council OKs program to handle federal restoration money

July 6, 2012: New mitigation program approved for Hood Canal

July 18, 2012: Governor praises Hood Canal mitigation program

Documents related to the in-lieu-fee program can be found on the website of the Hood Canal Coordinating Council.

A story related to mitigation at the proposed Bangor wharf involves compensation to area tribes for the loss of certain treaty-protected fish and shellfish resources. The story, “Navy to pay $9 million to tribes in mitigation for wharf project,” has generated considerable reader comments (134), mainly about tribal rights.

Navy analysis shows higher risk to marine mammals

An Associated Press story came out even before the Navy officially published its environmental impact statement in the Federal Register.

The EIS predicted that 200 deaths and 1,600 instances of hearing loss would be suffered by marine mammals in the Navy’s testing and training ranges in Hawaii and California, reported AP writer Audrey McAvoy.

The old Navy analysis, she said, listed injuries or deaths to about 100 marine mammals.

So what caused these increased estimates of injury and death, and what are the implications for the Northwest Training and Testing Range Complex in Washington state?

It turns out that the causes are multiple and the implications many, as I reported in a story in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.

In both California-Hawaii and the Northwest, the greatest effects come from the use of sonar and explosives, which the Navy considers essential to proper training and testing. By far, the greatest number of injuries and deaths are to dolphins. But the higher numbers do not mean that the Navy will be changing its operations to a great degree. If one doesn’t read this carefully, the higher numbers are easy to get confused.

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Mystery of orca’s death only deepens with new info

The unusual death of L-112, a young female orca apparently killed by “blunt force trauma,” continues to fuel discussions about what may have killed her and what should be done about it.

Kenneth Hess, a Navy public affairs officer, posted a comment today on the recent blog entry “Balcomb wants to know if young orca was bombed.” In his comment, Hess repeats that the Navy did not conduct any training with sonar, bombs or explosives in the days preceding L-112’s death. He called it “irresponsible and inaccurate” to blame the Navy for “blowing up” the whale.

Another new development today is an e-mail I received from Lt. Diane Larose of the Canadian Navy, responding to my inquiry about any explosive devices used in the days before L-112 was found dead on Feb. 11. Read the e-mail (PDF 16 kb) I received:

“On February 6, 2012 HMCS Ottawa was operating in the Straits of Juan de Fuca, specifically in Constance Bank, conducting Work Ups Training including a period of sonar use and two small under water charges as part of an anti-submarine warfare exercise. These small charges were used to get the ships’ company to react to a potential threat or damage to meet the necessary training requirement.”

In talking to experts involved in the investigation, it seems unlikely that L-112 could have been injured or killed in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and then wash up dead on Long Beach five days later. So the mystery continues.

In tomorrow’s Kitsap Sun, I’m reporting that environmental groups on both sides of the Canadian border are calling on their respective navies to disclose all the specific activities during the 10 days leading up to the discovery of L-112’s carcass at Long Beach on Feb. 11. The groups also are calling for a complete cessation of sonar use for training and testing in the Salish Sea.

Check out three letters submitted to the navies involved, including one from U.S. and Canadian scientists:
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Balcomb wants to know if young orca was bombed

Ken Balcomb, the dean of killer whale research in the Northwest, has looked at the evidence and believes he knows what killed L-112, a 3-year-old female orca found along the Washington Coast in February.

L-112 in happier times. The 3-year-old orca died in February, and her death is the subject of an intense investigation.
Photo by Jeanne Hyde, Whale of a Porpoise
(Click on image to see Jeanne's tribute page)

“Clearly the animal was blown up,” he told Scott Rasmussen, a reporter for the Journal of the San Juan Islands.

When I asked Ken to explain, he provided a lot more detail and informed me that he was calling for a law-enforcement investigation into the whale’s death by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Why he is seeking more than a biological analysis of the death will become clear in a moment.

What Ken is suggesting is that L-112 was killed by a bomb, possibly dropped from an aircraft during a training event in the Navy’s Northwest Training Range off the West Coast. His evidence is circumstantial, but he wants some answers.

What we know for sure is that this young female orca washed up dead at Long Beach on Feb. 11 in relatively fresh condition, allowing a complete necropsy, including CT scans of the head and dissections of the internal organs and head.

Joe Gaydos, a veterinarian with The SeaDoc Society who participated in the necropsy, said the whale showed signs of “blunt force trauma” with injury to the right and left sides of the head and right side of the body. Blunt force trauma might be what a human would experience if dropped from a helicopter onto soft ground, he explained.
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Environmental groups will boycott Navy meetings

A dozen environmental groups say they will boycott the nine “scoping meetings” the Navy is holding to kick off a new round of studies regarding testing and training activities in the Northwest.

In a letter dated March 13 (PDF 16 kb), the groups said the format of the meetings is not designed to encourage public discussion or even allow public comment. In addition, the Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have ignored ongoing calls for the Navy to better protect marine wildlife and the environment along the Washington Coast and other biologically important areas, they say.

Navy's Northwest testing and training ranges. Click to enlarge.
Map by U.S. Navy

The Navy will seek a new permit from NOAA for the incidental harassment of marine mammals during testing and training activities. Most of the activities are identical to what is taking place now, but some new activities are added — including the testing of sonar from ships docked at piers.

Between now and 2015, Navy officials will describe and study the effects of various activities on marine life and update existing mitigation with new research findings. See my initial story in the Kitsap Sun, Feb. 27, and a related post in Water Ways, March 6. Also, you may review the official notice in the Federal Register.

Back to the letter, which states in part:

“As you know, the scoping process is the best time to identify issues and provide recommendations to agencies on what should be analyzed in the EIS. However, a process developed for activities with controversial impacts, like those at issue here, that does not provide opportunity for the public to testify or speak to a broader audience, or to hear answers to questions raised by others, and that fails to engage major population centers is not designed to help citizens and organizations effectively participate in agencies’ environmental reviews.”

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Sinclair-Dyes study: How to get ahead of pollution

The soon-to-be-released cleanup plan for Sinclair and Dyes inlets could become a leading example of how to reduce all kinds of pollution in a waterway. Check out my story in Tuesday’s Kitsap Sun.

Based on conversations with many people involved in the project, I believe the keys to success are continual and ongoing monitoring of water quality, an unfailing commitment to identify pollution sources, and a spirit of cooperation with people who can help solve the problems.

Officials with the Kitsap County Health District and other local and state agencies will tell you that one can never walk away from a watershed with the belief that the pollution problem is solved. Still, at times, the rewards can be relatively quick, as one observes improvements in water quality after a pollution source is turned off.

Every month for the past 15 years, health district officials have gone out into the field and taken water samples from nearly every stream in Kitsap County — some 58 streams at last count. Often, these monthly tests provide assurance than cleanup plans are working. Occasionally, they offer an early warning that someone in the watershed is doing something to degrade water quality.

If you haven’t checked the health district’s Water Quality website, I would recommend reading through some of the reports under “Featured Water Quality Reports,” particularly the “2010 Water Quality Monitoring Report.”

Monthly water-quality testing over time tells a story about differences between wet years and dry years, about the effects of new development, and about successes that follow cleanup of problem farms, septic systems or yards containing dog feces.

I think it would be a big step forward if every significant stream in the state were monitored monthly for at least bacterial pollution. The results would help all levels of government set priorities for dealing with stormwater and other pollution sources.

Sinclair and Dyes inlets animation of hypothetical treatment system failure in East Bremerton (Click to launch; shift-reload to restart)
Project Envvest

Another factor worth mentioning in regard to the Sinclair-Dyes cleanup is the Navy’s funding for Project Envvest, a cooperative effort between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington Department of Ecology and the Navy. The resulting computer model helped describe the flow of pollution under various rainfall scenarios. It can even predict the movement of pollution resulting from various kinds of spills.

The animation (right) shows what would happen if the ultraviolet infection system were to fail in the East Bremerton treatment plant, which handles stormwater mixed with sewage during periods of heavy rainfall. Tidal flows make a big difference. This simulated spill is 7,000 gallons per minute for a total of 10 million gallons. See CSO Simulation Scenarios to view other animations from the model.

Other websites related to the Sinclair-Dyes project:

Project Envvest Status, Progress, Reports, and Deliverables (Navy)

Sinclair/Dyes Inlets Water Quality Improvement Project (Ecology)

U.S. Navy becomes serious about climate change

If the world’s leaders were to learn that all civilizations on Earth were going to be attacked by alien beings from outer space, and if they knew they had only a few years to respond, what do you think they would do?

Would they search for evidence to show that aliens could not possibly exist, declare the idea a hoax and insist that any defense of our planet would not be worth the cost? Or would they study ALL the evidence, analyze the risks and look for the best way to address the uncertain crisis?

I keep thinking about this hypothetical alien scenario when I hear certain members of Congress ignoring climate change and essentially spitting in the face of climate scientists by calling their best research a “hoax.”

Greenhouse warming may seem like an alien concept to some people, but here’s my point: If you run and hide until the aliens have landed, you face a much greater peril than if you face the problem in a practical way.

Now I’m all for discussing the many uncertainties — such as how high ocean waters may rise under various assumptions. But please don’t tell me that some basement scientist has disproved the idea that temperatures are rising or has shown that humans could not possibly affect the Earth’s climate.

Here’s what I’m wondering: Would those who turn their backs on climate change act the same way if the entire Earth were under attack from a common enemy? Maybe our nation’s leaders would be better able to deal with a direct attack, uncomplicated by the uncertainties of science.

That’s more than I wanted to say about people who choose to ignore climate change. What I really wanted to write about is the U.S. Navy’s serious approach to the topic, which can provide an example for the rest of us.

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Speaking to the Navy about Hood Canal oyster deaths

I guess we can finally put to rest the question of how thousands of oysters got washed up high on the beaches of Hood Canal on Aug. 11, causing many to die in the summer sun.

Darrell Hogue of Seabeck wades into Hood Canal at Scenic Beach State Park to rescue oysters lodged high on the beach, where an estimated 178,000 were stranded.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

Without explicitly blaming the USS Port Royal for the problem, Navy officials said they would take steps to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Check out my story from Wednesday’s Kitsap Sun.

A lot of Hood Canal residents believed the Port Royal was to blame, because they saw this massive 567-foot guided-missile cruiser operating at high speeds off their shores. They naturally connected the ship to the big waves hitting their beaches at the same time. I tended to believe the local people, but I wasn’t sure how anyone could actually prove that the Navy was to blame.

Perhaps the best evidence came in a video I first revealed to you in Watching Our Water Ways on Aug. 27, thanks to the taping by Gary Jackson in Dabob Bay.

After this, I tried to get some simple questions answered by the Navy, but I was frustrated by the fact that three different Navy groups were playing a role. Each one kept referring me to another, and it appeared that nobody really wanted to talk about it.

For example, the ship itself belonged to the Third Fleet, so my questions were directed to a spokesman in San Diego. Because damage claims were involved, I was directed to a spokesman for the Admiralty and Maritime Law Division of the Judge Advocate General. And because the Dabob testing range on Hood Canal is operated by the Naval Undersea Warfare Center – Keyport, I was directed to a spokesman for Navy Region Northwest.

After getting the runaround again and again, I asked in late September if they could talk to each other and tell me where I should address my questions. They did that and told me that I would have my questions answered by Third Fleet, where the ship is based. I went so far as to put my questions in writing so there would be no confusion. Two weeks later, my questions still were not answered, so I sent out another e-mail.

This is where I need to give credit to Sean Hughes and the other public affairs officers for Navy Region Northwest. They have always been helpful to me, and I think that leaving these questions unresolved were beginning to trouble them as well. Sean told me that he was able to take over the questions from Third Fleet and quickly get answers from local folks running the Dabob range.

I’m guessing that the issue of financial liability for loss of the oysters was creating a reluctance by Navy officials to discuss the situation. I can understand that. At the same time, I’m glad that Sean Hughes and other officials at Navy Region Northwest appreciate the need to be responsive to the local community where they operate.