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.

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