Groups Fight Bigger Nuke Base in Puget Sound

     TACOMA (CN) – The Navy cannot claim that the need for military secrecy allows it to duck proper environmental review of a poorly designed $715 million addition to a nuclear submarine base in the ecologically sensitive Hood Canal region of Puget Sound, two anti-nuclear groups claim in Federal Court.



     The groups want to block construction of the new explosives-handling wharf at Bangor nuclear submarine base, claiming the project will bring “noise and water pollution” and “increased radioactive and explosive hazard.”
     The Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility sued the Department of the Navy and six top national and regional officials, claiming they failed to disclose potential environmental impacts or consider alternatives, such as building the facility at a submarine base in Georgia.
     “The public has a right to know the environmental and safety implications of a $715 million plan to build a second explosives-handling wharf at the Bangor nuclear submarine base in Kitsap County, Wash.,” the complaint states. “Contrary to the Navy’s claim that it cannot fully explain the reasoning for the project nor openly discuss all risks and alternatives, military projects are not exempt from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Rather, the mandate to fully disclose significant environmental impacts is especially compelling here, where the Navy plans to double its handling of high explosives at an ecologically sensitive site within the heavily populated Puget Sound region.
     “The new explosives handling wharf and related trestles and towers would cover an area of water roughly the size of six football fields, and require the drilling of up to 1,250 piles in fragile Hood Canal. A transformation of this magnitude should not proceed without the complete candor required by NEPA. Otherwise, the surrounding communities, as well as the many marine mammals, birds, salmon and shellfish which feed in the project area, will be subjected to unknown risks to health and safety. And NEPA’s purpose, to ensure that federal decision-makers and the public are fully informed about all reasonable alternatives, will be frustrated.”
     The plaintiffs say the distance between the two wharves will be “less than 2,400 feet,” which is less distance than “Navy documents said would ordinarily be required to prevent sympathetic detonation of one wharf due to an explosion at the other wharf.”
     “The distance between the existing and planned explosive handling wharves would be based on a single missile exploding, rather than on the worst case of all 24 of a Trident submarine’s missiles detonating,” according to the complaint.
     The groups say a “fragmentation barrier” is required between the wharves to protect one wharf from an explosion at the other. But the Navy plans to “remove the existing fragmentation barrier at Bangor as part of the pile replacement program for the existing wharf,” and has no plans to replace the barrier, according to the complaint.
     The groups say the Navy considered five alternatives that “varied only in physical design features.”
     “The analyzed alternatives did not include building a new explosives handling facility at a Navy base other than Bangor. The nation has one other Trident submarine base located in Kings Bay, Georgia. Page M-317 of the final impact statement said a new explosives handling wharf would have less potential to impact protected species at Kings Bay than at Bangor, while asserting without explanation that impacts at Kings Bay would be ‘generally similar’ overall. The Kings Bay location was not analyzed in detail as an alternative to Bangor, and the impact statement did not explain reasons for rejecting it,” the complaint states.
     The groups say the Navy also refused to consider alternative sites on the Bangor base, such as building the facility on land instead of water.
     “The impact statement does not acknowledge that the preferred alternative – a water-based facility – relies on outdated, grandfathered explosive safety requirements,” the complaint states.
     The plaintiffs say the final impact statement also failed to address increased terrorism threats.
     “(T)he final impact statement does not consider the increased potential for terrorism that will result from building a second explosives handling wharf next to the existing wharf, and does not discuss the potentially catastrophic impact of a terrorist attack at Bangor on the historic existing wharf or other environmental and cultural resources in the Puget Sound area,” according to the complaint.
     The Navy concealed key elements of the impact statements, including the safety distances between the two wharves, the groups say. They claim the final impact statement “served to justify a decision already made rather than as a means of assessing the environmental impact of a proposed Navy action.”
     “The Navy’s Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Estimates, submitted to Congress in February 2012, included a request for $280 million to begin building a second explosives handling wharf at Bangor. The request was submitted before the final impact statement for the second wharf was completed on March 30, 2012.
     “The Navy’s request for 2013 funding stated that design of the second wharf was complete as of October 2011, that a design-build contract would be awarded in April 2012, and that construction would start in July 2012 and be completed in December 2016. The request to Congress described the project in detail, using the word “will,” as if the project already was certain to proceed.”
     The two groups and Glen Milner, an additional plaintiff, say the Navy violated the National Environmental Policy Act because of the inadequacy of the environmental review. They want an injunction stopping construction until a proper environmental review takes place.
     They are represented by Katherine George with Harrison Benis & Spence in Seattle.

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