DNR won't let Navy use its forest roads for electronic warfare training

By Nicholas Johnson of the Leader
Posted 2/27/15

UPDATED (2:30 p.m. Monday, March 2)

In a Friday, Feb. 27 letter, Washington’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) told the U.S. Navy it won’t participate in a plan to train jet fighter …

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DNR won't let Navy use its forest roads for electronic warfare training

Posted

UPDATED (2:30 p.m. Monday, March 2)

In a Friday, Feb. 27 letter, Washington’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) told the U.S. Navy it won’t participate in a plan to train jet fighter pilots in detecting enemy electronic signals over the Olympic National Forest.

“The Department of Natural Resources had serious concerns regarding the proposed uses of state trust lands in this project, so we will not be participating,” senior DNR adviser Matthew Randazzo wrote in an email to the Leader on Friday, February 27.

The Navy is currently awaiting permission from the U.S. Forest Service to send utility trucks outfitted with mobile emitters of electromagnetic radiation to 12 of 15 preselected sites on the Olympic Peninsula’s west end. The other three sites are on DNR land located within Jefferson County on the peninsula’s west end.

“DNR land has been publicly discussed as a location for the Navy’s proposed electromagnetic warfare training on the Olympic Peninsula,” wrote Peter Goldmark, DNR commissioner of Public Lands, in his letter to Rear Adm. Jeffrey Ruth, commander of Navy Region Northwest. “Though we have not received a formal land use or lease application for this project, we feel that we are adequately informed to decide that we would not be interested in participating in this training exercise.”

NAVY PROPOSAL

The Navy had yet to request the DNR’s permission to use those three sites, said Navy spokesperson Liane Nakahara, who was unable to say why that request had not yet been made.

“Until we can review the letter, it’s hard to say how we will respond or what we will do next,” she said.

Nakahara said the Navy has conducted electronic warfare training above the Olympic Peninsula for nearly 40 years. Adding the electronic signal emitters to that training would enhance that training, and doing so on the Olympic Peninsula would save warfare aircraft crews a 400-mile trip to Idaho, she said.

“Any reduction would decrease the effectiveness of the training overall, but that wouldn’t necessarily change the flights that are taking place,” said Nakahara.

In the DNR’s letter, Goldmark calls the Navy “one of its most important and collaborative partners,” citing a 2014 Hood Canal easement project as “the largest aquatic conservation easement in state history,” as well as a series of upland conservation projects through the U.S. Department of Defense Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration program.

“It is because of our excellent working relationship across a broad array of priority issues that we feel it is important to inform the Navy of one project we would prefer not to partner on at this time,” Goldmark wrote in the letter.

FOREST SERVICE

Dean Millett, the U.S. Forest Service ranger responsible for deciding whether to permit the Navy’s use of 12 forest roads, is reviewing public comments on the Navy’s environmental assessment as well as its finding that the proposed use of those roads would have no significant impact on the natural environment or human communities.

The Forest Service has received some 3,279 comments, 311 of which came in after the Nov. 28, 2014 deadline. They can be reviewed at the Forest Service’s online reading room at

bit.ly/12sa2Pu.

Millett has said only those comments deemed substantive will be considered in his review and he does not expect to make a decision until mid-2015.

The Navy proposes to begin this training in September 2015.

THE PLAN

Upon approaching the peninsula from the Pacific Ocean, Navy EA-18G Growler pilots in training would try to detect, identify and locate electronic signals coming from the mobile emitters.

The $11.5 million project would be the Navy’s first use of mobile emitters of electromagnetic radiation for training that pilots currently simulate with internal aircraft controls.

The emitters would depart Naval Station Everett Annex Pacific Beach for any of those 15 sites, seven of which are located within Jefferson County. The jets would depart Naval Air Station Whidbey Island for the Olympic Peninsula’s west end to practice detecting those radio signals for as many as 16 hours a day, 260 days each year.

The trucks would be surrounded by a taped-off, 101-foot perimeter, and their activity would not impact people or wildlife, in part because the trucks’ 14-foot antennas would emit radiation straight up into the sky.

PROCESS

Having received no substantive comments since opening a public comment period on Aug. 9, Millett issued a decision notice on Sept. 13 in support of the Navy’s environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact. That began a 45-day objection period, the last step before a permit can be issued.

With public awareness of the Navy’s plan growing, Millett on Sept. 26 heeded calls to cancel the objection period and extend the comment period.

Since then, public meetings in Forks on Oct. 14, in Port Angeles on Nov. 6 and in Pacific Beach on Nov. 19 drew hundreds of people, almost all of whom opposed the project. Comments made during those meetings were not recorded, thus won’t be considered by Forest Service officials.

Millett will eventually issue a second decision notice on whether to issue a permit, after which those who submitted comments will have 45 days to object to Millett’s supervisor, Reta Laford, before a permit is issued. Only those who submitted a comment prior to Nov. 28, 2014 will have standing to object at that time.

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