Opinion

Learn about, and comment on, Navy plans | Editorial

April 13.

That’s the new deadline for public comment on the U.S. Navy’s plans to extend its training over the San Juan Islands and the Pacific Northwest.

Hear those planes rumbling over the San Juans? That should compel you to learn more about what the Navy has planned. Read the draft Environmental Impact Statement – the name of the document is the “Northwest Training Range Complex Draft Environmental Impact Statement / Overseas Environmental Impact Statement.”

To review the document and submit a comment, visit www.NWTRangeComplexEIS.com or write to Naval Facilities Engineering Command Northwest, 1101 Tautog Circle, Silverdale, WA 98315-1101, Attn: Mrs. Kimberly Kler – NWTRC EIS/OEIS.

We salute the Navy for extending the public comment period – it’s the second extension. Public hearings were held Jan. 27 in Oak Harbor, Jan. 28 in Pacific Beach, Jan. 29 in Aberdeen, Jan. 30 in Newport, Ore., and Feb. 2 in Eureka, Calif. After receiving considerable public feedback about the proposed increase in flights, the Navy extended the public comment period to March 11. Because of continued public interest, the Navy again extended the period, to April 13.

The Northwest Training Range Complex consists of numerous individual training areas in the Pacific Northwest. The range extends westward in the Pacific Ocean up to 250 nautical miles beyond the coast of Washington, Oregon and Northern California.

If implemented, exercises by EA-6B Prowlers (and their replacement EA-18 G Growlers) and P-3 Orions (and their replacement P-8A Poseidons) would double at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island from almost 2,300 sorties per year to more than 4,500, according to Navy Region Northwest Public Affairs.

Now’s the time to ask questions, and there are plenty to ask.

Can training be conducted over the open ocean, rather than over the inland sea and island populations?

What will be the noise levels over populated areas? How will noise affect the livability of those areas?

If a plane has to dump fuel in order to land, where will the fuel dump occur? Are fuel dumps necessary only in emergency situations, or are they routine? Are there ways to minimize fuel dumps?

Do we know the environmental impacts of current fuel dumps on the Puget Sound and the Salish Sea?

The environmental journalist Jeffrey St. Clair reported in 2002 that the small town of Fallon, Nev., may have the highest per capita rate of childhood leukemia in the nation. That town is located next to the 240,000-acre Fallon Naval Air Station, one of the Navy’s largest bombing ranges and home of the “Top Gun” fighter pilot training school.

“JP-8 jet fuel, a combination of kerosene and benzene, is a known carcinogen and has been linked to leukemia and other bone marrow diseases,” St. Clair reported. “Nearby residents charge that Navy fighter pilots routinely dump excess fuel into the desert prior to landing at Fallon. The Navy says this is a rare occurrence, with emergency fuel dumps happening about three times a year. However, Navy records show that in a single instance a few years ago more than 800 gallons was dumped into the (desert).

“In 2000 alone, according to the Navy’s own statistics, Fallon-based fighters and bombers consumed 34 million gallons of jet fuel,” St. Clair reported.

And are there less expensive alternatives, such as virtual training? Patrick Amo of Fisherman Bay asks, “I would be very interested to see some figures on, for instance, how much fuel and money would be saved on a yearly basis for every 1 percent of training that is shifted to a virtual environment as opposed to the environment in which we live and sleep and pray?”

— What are your thoughts about a doubling of training flights over the San Juan Islands? Write Editor, The Journal, P.O. Box 519, Friday Harbor 98250. E-mail rwalker@sanjuanjournal.com. And, most of all, visit www.NWTRangeComplexEIS.com

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