The unbearable noise

Water texture

May 16, 2016 – Noise in the sea is killing and injuring wildlife.

“The Navy merely received a slap on the wrist and the public was never aware of the true nature of the Take or the violations.” -anonymous Navy source to Truthout reporter Dahr Jamail

The numbers are shocking. The online news organization Truthout published their top story this morning, on the excessively high numbers of marine mammals the US Navy is allowed to “take” as a result of exploding mines and bombs and using sonar in sensitive habitats during testing and training exercises. Truthout senior investigative reporter Dahr Jamail researched and wrote it after noticing this post from the West Coast Action Alliance.

Coincidentally, the New York Times wrote last week that Navy sonar “cannot be ruled out as cause of death” for dolphins in Southern California.

Which brings us to this: 23 organizations are sponsoring a showing of the movie “Sonic Sea” on Monday, May 23 from 7-9 PM at the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (QUUF) in Port Townsend, Washington, 2333 San Juan Avenue. The eye-opening film reveals how noise from Navy sonar, drilling operations and everyday vessel traffic adversely impacts whales and other sea life. (Watch trailer here.) A donation of $10 is suggested at the door.

Two world renowned experts and cast members will be at the screening – Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research and Michael Jasny of the National Resources Defense Council. They will speak and, after the film, lead a Q&A session. (Press release here.) If you are not in the area, check this site for more screenings, or to host one in your area. To learn more, download the Ocean Noise Report. See you there.

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Low oxygen delivery endangers pilots, civilians

May 14, 2016 – “Nothing scares a Hornet/Growler pilot more that losing oxygen – and it happens all the time.” This article in the Navy Times details the problem, which pilots have identified as their top concern. But read the comments, some are from pilots who add perspective, including the fact that the problem is decades old and the new, less reliable oxygen delivery system replaced the old reliable one because it made maintenance cheaper.

Here’s the issue as we see it: While the West Coast Action Alliance maintains our vigorous objections to the Navy’s encroachment on public lands, waters and airspaces over civilian communities, we also vigorously object to the fact that when the Pentagon’s focus becomes “How much money can we spend on defense contractors making new weapons” instead of “How can we take care of the people who serve and who’ve served,” then they put lives in danger unnecessarily, both in the air and on the ground. This is a fixable problem and the Navy is not fixing it. Do they not have the money? Not when you look at this list that shows at least 2/3 of the Pentagon’s budget goes to defense contractors. Of the top 37 US contractors, all but 4 are defense, and development of new weaponry takes priority. Humanity already knows ways to kill itself a thousand times over, but preventable jet crashes should not be one of them.

If a Navy jet ever crashes and hypoxia is found to be the cause, it will likely be a matter of criminal negligence.

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Leaked Navy emails show intent to violate law

USFWS Marbled_murrelet

Marbled murrelet-gate?

May 9, 2016 – A series of internal emails leaked by an anonymous Navy source to Truthout investigative reporter Dahr Jamail reveal a deliberate willingness by the US Navy to flout federal law; the story was published today.

The gist? Navy personnel have been “working to manipulate the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) biologists into bending the law, then proceeded to break the law, whilst the consultations between the two entities are ongoing.”

A quick reading of the emails also reveals an unprecedented level of intimidation by Pentagon-level officials, of FWS field biologists.

According to the article, Navy sonar and explosive activities are a double whammy for marbled murrelets, “… secretive diving seabirds that nest in old-growth forests, which makes them vulnerable to both jet noise and sonar.” The Navy’s John Mosher frankly admits in one email, “We are conducting these activities without coverage.” Meaning, a valid permit to “take” (harm) threatened and endangered species does not exist, which is illegal.
The emails show the Navy trying to force the FWS to shrink its definition of harm by eliminating both temporary hearing loss caused by explosives, and behavior changes of all kinds, from the standards for measuring harm. This too would be illegal if the FWS complied with that request. It is possibly the reason for concern that has caused an unprecedented delay in completing the Biological Opinion (and the take permit that accompanies it) that the Navy wanted last September. According to the FWS, neither is complete and the consultation is still open. Which raises big questions about the legality of the Navy’s ongoing activities.

West Coast Action Alliance spokesperson Karen Sullivan, who was asked to analyze the emails, said, “If an evaluation of harm to a species rules out standard definitions of harm, encourages use of data more than 40 years old and prohibits the presence of adequately trained observers, then it neither gives the benefit of the doubt to the species nor uses the best available information — and thus does not contribute to legally defensible solutions.”
What will it take to make the Navy follow the law? Must the citizens who already pay for the Pentagon’s $600 billion dollar budget also have to sue them to keep them honest?

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Facts about increased Navy ocean activity in the Pacific Northwest

Update May 12, 2016: Navy sonar not ruled out in dolphin deaths off Southern California.

April 26, 2016 – Analysis of increases and some impacts as shown in the Navy’s Northwest Training and Testing EIS.

Orcas breaching

Orcas breaching

It’s obvious even to tourists that the increase in Navy activity in our Northwest waters, public lands, and skies is huge. But how big? The West Coast Action Alliance examined the Navy’s Northwest Training and Testing EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) and the Letters of Authorization  for incidental takes of marine mammals issued by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. We found some startling numbers. These numbers apply only to the coastal waters of Northern California, Oregon, Washington and Southeast Alaska, as well as inland waters including the San Juan Islands, Puget Sound, Hood Canal, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Click on any image to enlarge it.

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Map from the Navy’s EIS showing the Northwest Training and Testing Range. This does not include any other ranges such as the Electronic Warfare Range on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

The NWTT EIS is still open because the Navy has not been able to sign a final Record of Decision (ROD) due to the fact that the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species consultation is still not finished, seven months after publication of the EIS. This is unprecedented.

First, a comparison of baseline to proposed numbers of activities listed in the October 2015 EIS revealed the following:

72% increase in electronic warfare operations,

50% increase in explosive ordance disposal in Crescent Harbor and Hood Canal,

244% increase in air combat maneuvers (dogfighting)

400% increase in air-to-surface missile exercises (including Olympic National Marine Sanctuary),

400% increase in helicopter tracking exercises,

778% increase in number of torpedoes in inland waters,

3,500% increase in number of sonobuoys,

From none to 284 sonar testing events in inland waters,

From none to 286 “Maritime Security Operations” using 1,320 small-caliber rounds (blanks) in Hood Canal, Dabob Bay, Puget Sound & Strait of Juan de Fuca,

72% increase in chaff dropped from aircraft (contains tiny glass fibers and more than a dozen metals,)

1,150% increase in drone aircraft,

1,150% increase in drone surface vehicles,

1,450% increase in expendable devices. These are just a few.

140915-N-UN259-006 PACIFIC OCEAN (Sept. 15, 2014) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63) fires a Harpoon missile during a sinking exercise as part of Valiant Shield 2014. Air and sea units from the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force participated in the sinking exercise of the ex-USS Fresno to gain proficiency in tactics, targeting and live-firing against a surface target at sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Alonzo M. Archer/Released)

PACIFIC OCEAN (Sept. 15, 2014) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63) fires a Harpoon missile during a sinking exercise as part of Valiant Shield 2014. Air and sea units from the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force participated in the sinking exercise of the ex-USS Fresno.

There are no changes to the following:

2 ship sinking exercises each year with 24 bombs, 22 missiles, 80 large caliber rounds and 2 heavyweight high explosive torpedoes,

30 air-to-surface bombing exercises, including in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary,

160 gunnery exercises with small, medium & large caliber rounds, missiles, and high explosive warheads offshore, includes Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary,

An active-duty Navy pilot confided that fuel dumping incidents occur more often than the public realizes; they happen about once a month.

And there are more.

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Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary extends well into to offshore waters; the Navy is exempted from many prohibitions that protect marine species.

Now let’s look at the figures for “takes” to marine mammals. A “take” is a form of harm ranging from disturbance to injury to death. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act  there are two classifications, called Level A and Level B.  Level B is mostly harassment, and Level A is injury (or death.) Most takes allowed are in the harassment category, but harassment causes behavior changes such as abandonment of feeding, nursing, and migration habitat. If a marine mammal that relies on echolocation to find food can’t hear, it has to work harder to feed itself. If it can’t take in extra food, it loses weight. A study on the increases in metabolism in bottlenose dolphins showed that after the animals had to work harder to find food or be heard, it took another 7 minutes per episode for oxygen consumption to return to normal levels. That translates eventually to starvation if they cannot find enough food to make up the difference.

Sperm whale

Sperm whale

The problem with Level A harassment is in documenting injuries or deaths; frequent mass strandings have occurred days after naval activity in an area, but in nearly every case the Navy disavows being the cause. They do not allow federal wildlife agency experts aboard their ships because of security concerns about civilians; however, civilian fitness instructors are found on many Navy ships. None of the mitigation measures require the Navy to tow hydrophones to listen for marine mammals before commencing exercises; the Navy’s technology for observing whether marine mammals are present is the same that has been used since the 17th century: two lookouts at the bow of the ship.

A recent study found that climate change can affect fur seal pups in their first few months of life. Wetter and windier conditions are predicted for Antarctica in the coming years. Young fur seals will expend more energy keeping warm and, thus, less energy growing and developing. (Photo Credit: Jordan Spielman)

Seal pups. Younger animals are more vulnerable to harassment, and less able to recover from it.

The noise threshold for hearing damage in humans is 85 decibels. For every 10-decibel increase, the intensity of the noise increases by a factor of ten; therefore, a 115-decibel noise, which is roughly what a Growler jet makes when passing overhead at altitude of 1000 feet, is a thousand times louder than the 85-decibel threshold for human hearing damage. Navy sonar is capable of at least 235 decibels at the source. This is over 10 trillion times more intense than the 85-decibel threshold. At a distance of 300 miles away from the source, underwater noise can still be 140 decibels. 140 decibels is sufficient to vibrate and rupture internal organs, and has been assessed by the French government as “a weapon to kill people.”

splashdatamap Hawaiian Humpback feeding-migration areas

Humpback feeding and migration areas

What does this mean? Since the Navy is positioning its ships in whale migration routes and feeding areas without regard to peak times of use for the animals, it means the animals will continue to work harder and to lose weight if they can’t find enough to eat, which is already exacerbated by climate change and decreasing abundance of their food. Since 30 large whales washed up on Alaskan beaches last summer in what NOAA called an “Unusual Mortality Event,” and since it was during the time Navy ships were up there conducting “Operation Northern Edge” sonar and bombing exercises, and since every single dead whale was also emaciated, one has to wonder who in their right mind wouldn’t take steps to reduce harassment of already-stressed animals.

whales

Here are take numbers from the Northwest Training and Testing EIS, for just the waters from Northern California to Southeast Alaska, including Puget Sound and other inland waters, for a 5-year period:

Whales (toothed and baleen)         18,921

Dolphins and porpoises                   843,465

Seals and sea lions                            364,538

Totals:                                               1,226,924

Here are those numbers broken down by NWTT area:

Coastal waters of California, Oregon and Washington:                575,258

Washington inland waters (Puget Sound, Hood Canal):              343,310

Southeast Alaska:                                                                              10,950

Eastern North Pacific (offshore)                                                     21,996

Remember, these numbers do not include takes to endangered and threatened seabirds, fish, sea turtles or terrestrial species impacted by Navy activities, using sonar, explosives, underwater and surface drones, sonobuoys, ships, submarines, aircraft, or troops training on 68 beaches and state parks in western Washington. The numbers also do not include takes for smaller projects such as underwater detonation exercises and/or pile-driving and construction at Port Angeles, Bremerton, Everett, Kitsap, or Whidbey Island, nor does it include impacts from sonar and other acoustic devices at the Keyport Range Complex Expansion, or any impacts brushed over in dozens of Environmental Assessments that split the projects into smaller pieces so they don’t rise to the threshold of a full-blown EIS.

pacific_leatherback_migration_map

Migration routes for endangered Leatherback Sea Turtles

With regard to the 72% increase in chaff, the EIS says it is “…typically packaged in cylinders approximately 6 in. by 1.5 in. (15.2 cm by 3.8 cm), weighing about 5 oz. (140 g), and containing a few million fibers. Chaff may be deployed from an aircraft or may be launched from a surface vessel. The chaff fibers are approximately the thickness of a human hair (generally 25.4 microns in diameter) and range in length from 0.3 to 2 in. (0.8 to 5.1 cm). The major components of the chaff glass fibers and the aluminum coating are alumina, boron oxide, sodium oxide, potassium oxide, copper, manganese, silicon, iron, zinc,vanadium, titanium, and other metals.”

A 1997 Air Force study reviewed the potential impacts of chaff inhalation on humans, livestock, and other animals and concluded that the fibers are “…too large to be inhaled into the lungs.” Whose lungs? A fiber the thickness of a human hair is certainly inhalable by human beings, even children. And what about marine mammals with upturned and very large breathing holes? The fibers, said the study, were predicted to be deposited in the nose, mouth, or trachea and either swallowed or expelled. Has the public been made aware of the effects of chaff ingestion? Is chaff inhalation or ingestion by marine mammals considered a taking? Not that we could see.

chemring_co chaff UK

Chaff being dropped from a fighter jet. Chaff is often accompanied by flares.

The West Coast Action Alliance noticed some discrepancies among the Letters of Authorization (LOA) issued by NOAA to the Navy for takes; for example, more than 133,000 takes for bottlenose dolphins off the Northern California-Oregon-Washington coast were not listed in the LOA for the Northwest Training and Testing EIS – they were in the LOA for Hawaii-Southern California. Why? We don’t know, but the omission certainly helped to reduce the appearance of large numbers of marine mammal takes in the NWTT area. Curious, we looked at the LOAs for four EISs done in four regions of the North Pacific: the Gulf of Alaska, the Pacific Northwest coast, Hawaii-Southern California, and the Marianas Islands. What we found was shocking.

gray whale breaching

Gray whale

When you consider, for example, that the best estimate for the number of gray whales in the eastern North Pacific is 21,000, and that they migrate up and down the West Coast from Alaska to Mexico, but that the numbers of takes allowed to the Navy in the areas of the Pacific where gray whales might be found is 62,550, it becomes clear that multiple harassment incidents to the same animals throughout their range are not only anticipated but allowed.

Gray whale global distribution

Where gray whales are found

The WCAA also found it interesting and disturbing that neither sonar, bombing, explosives, nor any military activity whatsoever is included on NOAA’s list of threats caused by human impacts. Why, when this this much harm is being done on such a scale?

Takes by species: If you add up all the Navy’s takes of whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea lions for these four regions of the North Pacific for a 5-year period, it is nearly 12 million.

Click here to see the take numbers broken down by individual species and regions, but you might want to be sitting down, it’s a horrifying picture. And remember, it only includes marine mammals.

The Navy prides itself on a concept it calls “Distributed Lethality,” the definition of which is “ …the condition gained by increasing the offensive power of individual components of the surface force (cruisers, destroyers, littoral combat ships [LCSs], amphibious ships, and logistics ships) and then employing them in dispersed offensive formations known as “hunter-killer SAGs.” SAG stands for “Surface Action Group.” The Navy has already sent a “hunter-killer pack of ships” into the Pacific toward Asia, in a clear sign that war games across the globe evidently know no limits to civilians.

It’s also clear that when it comes to wildlife, the Navy distributes lethality very, very well.

blue-whale-light-blue.jpg.adapt.945.1

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Same ship, same incident, two dates? (updated)

250px-C-141_Starlifter_contrail

Coming to land, sea, and skies near you: more military hardware

April 13, 2016 – UPDATED with email from a Navy pilot April 19 (below) – What is going on here?  We publish this as an example of a rather strange puzzle. Same ship, same incident, two or possibly three dates over two years. In April 2014, the USS Donald Cook was supposedly buzzed by a Russian fighter jet in the Black Sea, which disabled the entire ship’s electronic capacity. Nobody but a few internet sites paid much attention to the story. Why? Because it was dismissed by the military: “I have difficulty believing that two Russian pilots, on their own, would choose to take such an action,” Col. Steve Warren said during a Pentagon briefing…

A defense industry chatroom asked, “Is this nothing more than Russian propaganda or could there be an element of truth to it?” So, today, April 13, 2016, the Military Times published it as a “breaking story” with the screaming headline, “Russian attack aircraft just flew within 30 feet of a U.S. Navy ship.” What, again?  Is the Navy so unfortunate as to allow two or three incidents over two years in the same place to the same ship? Or is it another ploy to alarm an already alarmed population, for the purpose of goading us into more spending? If the Navy, with its immense budget, 2/3 of which goes to defense industry contractors, can’t get their act together after three incidents, or, more likely, it allows the defense industry to publish lies which are now getting picked up by major news outlets, then what are we to make of that? Sounds like the Navy better do some serious disavowing soon, or come clean on what really happened.

UPDATE APRIL 19: Email from a retired Navy carrier pilot: “This incident has been the subject of several emails from my old Navy buds. Low-level passes have been common by both countries since the beginning of the cold war in 1946. I was personally guilty of it on four occasions. The troops on deck love any break in the boredom. Someone chose to make this an international incident. Here is one comment:

”Russians put on an air show for the lonely sailors in the Baltic Sea and the typical black shoe response was to call it an international incident. Personally, if I were sitting on a tin can at sea in today’s Navy (that’s code for soft drinks only) I would welcome the sight of some Fencers at sea level doing 450 knots. Perhaps a better response from the skipper would be all hands on deck except for the Block 1B Phalanx guys who need some low level tracking practice.”

And a response: ”…could not possibly agree more. We’ve all done this. Russian flybys by their F-111ski. Bring it!”

Your WCAA comment is right. Someone is pedaling hardware. Feel free to post it.”

puzzled

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Videotaped presentation by Dahr Jamail and Karen Sullivan

April 8, 2016 – By Air, Land and Sea: Deconstructing the Navy’s plans for Washington State:  Watch Truthout Senior Investigative Reporter Dahr Jamail and West Coast Action Alliance co-founder Karen Sullivan present the evidence in this 72-minute recording made at the Port Angeles Library in March 2016.

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 7.45.18 AM

 

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Why we don’t publish our names

Orwell on journalism

Dear Readers,

Recently we were upbraided by an elected official for not signing our names to the emails we send, or signing these posts. It’s understandable to wonder why, so it’s time to explain. Due to multiple threats and abusive behaviors directed toward many people who’ve spoken out, we disabled public comments on this web site and no longer sign WCAA emails sent to those who sign up (see right side of this page.) The threats and abusive behavior have come from Navy personnel, and from a group of Navy contractors representing “Team Whidbey.”

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“Team Whidbey” gets an award from the Navy, January 2016. Article in the Whidbey Daily News.

We have documented the abuse with screen shots and narrative, posted it, and reported it to the Navy command, but to no avail. We know that not signing our names flies in the face of the transparency we seek from our government, but when you are personally named in multiple newspaper letters to the editor as a “threat to 30,000 jobs” and you have Navy personnel publicly saying they’d like to “strap you to a Growler and fly you into ISIS territory to see how much guts you have” or a pilot tells you the dart board at the officer’s club has your face on it, and the tone of that continuous smear campaign implies that violence might not be out of line because you are a traitor, and they tell you on social media that they know where you live, you start to take precautions with your personal safety.

UPDATE APRIL 2, 2016: The Seattle Times published an article on its front page, called “Jets, helicopters, rockets: Military plans more uses of Northwest public lands.” You will see that “Team Whidbey” and its supporters are again harassing and intimidating people in the comments section.

To read these illustrations, click to enlarge.

Screen Shot Boycott campaign

Social media post from Navy contractor running the “Boycott Port Townsend and Al Jazeera” campaign.

When two Navy personnel in blue fatigues sat down right next to five of us on an otherwise empty Keystone-to-Port Townsend ferry, and made it obvious they were recording our conversation and snapping our photos with their iPhones, it was disconcerting and intimidating. The traitor inference comes from “Team Whidbey” and others objecting via months and months of letters to the editor and in trolling public forums, to Truthout reporter Dahr Jamail, a fourth generation American who has frequently written about the Navy. They vilify him in veiled racist ways, and publicly print again and again, in multiple forums, that I (Karen Sullivan) am “colluding with Al Jazeera.” They evidently wish to conflate Al Jazeera with Al Qaida in their social media audience’s minds. When it became known to Navy personnel and their supporters that I had been asked to write the Port Townsend City Council’s comment letter on an EIS last year, and when the contents of that comment letter became public, the threats and abusive behavior escalated. A Navy contractor organized a campaign he called “Boycott Port Townsend and Al Jazeera.”

Screen shot Seattle Weekly

One of many nasty responses to people who speak out, this one to Seattle Weekly reporter Dan Person after a March 1, 2016 article.

When an elderly woman commented in a public forum about how much the jet noise was impacting her recovery from a hip operation and how depressed it made her, a Navy pilot suggested she should go ahead and commit suicide, because, he said, the jet noise over her community was going to increase and they were going to “punish” her. He continued with the following, about a retired Air Force officer who wrote to complain about the noise and lack of respect:

note from pilot

Email from a Hornet pilot.

Trolls that included several active duty pilots jumped on a public Facebook page and intimidated public comments with their sarcasm and abusive language.

Screen Shot I can't believe I protect you morons

Interaction with a Navy pilot

I personally reported the abuse to the base commander and public affairs officer at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island more than a year ago, but received no reply. So I reported it to the Secretary of the Navy. No reply. Then I sent it to the White House. No reply, but the webmaster at the citizen’s group Citizens of the Ebey’s Reserve watched in astonishment as all abusive comments were stripped one by one from their site. The only reply we have seen from the Navy is a fact sheet that says the public is “confused” because of “misinformation.”

Facebook page title created at NASWI

Facebook campaign by Navy contractor now representing “Team Whidbey”

So, lack of any reply whatsoever from our two silent Senators, on any of the letters we have sent, none of which have been unreasonable, is doubly disturbing.

It’s not unpatriotic to ask your government to follow the law and to respect the citizens who pay dearly for their equipment and salaries. I’m the spokesperson for the West Coast Action Alliance, and I’m proud of it. I’m also verging on being a little old lady, and to see people who raise reasonable questions being targeted like this is scary. It also makes me mad, and by God I’m not backing down.

Sincerely,

Karen Sullivan

*Footnote: Within two hours of publishing this post, Navy jets began flying lower and louder than usual, over Port Townsend.

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Electronic warfare on public roads?

8 help

March 7, 2016 – Words fail us. 

Exclusive: Navy Secretly Conducting Electromagnetic Warfare Training on Washington Roads. by Dahr Jamail, Truthout.

All we are asking is for the Navy to follow the law.

Also, the public should be aware that the Navy has sued Kitsap County to try to prevent it from releasing emergency plans in the event of a radiological accident.

According to an article in the Kitsap Sun, “In January, Glen Milner asked Kitsap County Emergency Management for records regarding potential consequences of a radiological accident at the submarine base and planned responses to it. The Kitsap Sun, researching a project about a major earthquake, piggybacked on the request in October. In denying the request, the Navy has said it will inform residents how to respond if a catastrophic incident unfolds.”

After the fact? Really?

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How the Navy gets its way, Part 4: A Faustian Pact

1 16-foot surf at Second Beach copy

Big winter surf near LaPush, Washington. In spring, birds will try to nest on these rocks while Navy jets roar overhead.

March 2, 2016 – A blueprint for Navy expansion in a report

The ringing silence from our Congressional delegation (with the exception of some tepid protest from Rep. Derek Kilmer) as well as other elected officials in our region, has been completely puzzling. Why don’t our two Senators, or other Representatives answer our letters or phone calls? Why do the Governor’s Office and the State Legislature ignore our concerns? Western Washington constituents have called, pleaded, and sent our government tens of thousands of letters and a petition with more than 120,000 signatures. All we are asking is for fairness. All we get is silence. Except, of course, for the jets and helicopters roaring overhead. And the deafening sonar. And bombs and mines and sonic booms.

So, their silence, after all the tremendous effort to get their attention, is odd.

1a EA-18G

EA-18G “Growler” jet. Can make 150 decibels of noise.

The few letters that have trickled back to constituents contain formulaic platitudes about national defense and the need to support our military, as well as this personal favorite: “I am monitoring the situation.” Well, that’s not the point, is it. Monitoring does little, and supporting the military does not have to mean unquestioning acceptance of them bringing combat testing and training into our lives in ways that disrupt our communities, harm our health, or damage wildlife and our tourism-based economy.

2 Growler-kill-mark-close

This is from a growler jet. Nice, huh.

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) recently spoke up in a Senate Appropriations hearing on behalf of concerns about Army combat helicopter landings in wilderness areas of the North Cascades and southwest Washington.  She specifically asked the Army if they are following all the laws and working with local stakeholders. For that she and deserves our thanks, but also a question:  Why haven’t you asked the Navy the same question?  If extensive legal research and media reports have repeatedly demonstrated a disregard for the law by the Navy, why are Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and its hundred thousand residents, plus three million annual visitors, not to mention a World Heritage site, being thrown under the bus? Are we second class, or have we merely been written off as a sacrifice zone?

Or maybe there’s another answer…

Report cover

The 2012 blueprint for military expansion in the Pacific Northwest.

A little history might explain the puzzling silence. In 2012, a report – a blueprint, really – was published for the State of Washington by three Washington DC lobby firms. It’s called Retaining and Expanding Military Missions – Increasing Defense Spending and Investment. Clients for those three Washington DC lobbying firms clients include  Raytheon, Boeing, General Dynamics, a military munitions manufacturer, a cyber information security firm, a defense aerospace company, and, amazingly, city governments and utility and transit authorities throughout the Puget Sound area.

The Acknowledgements page of this report reads like a roll call for Washington’s elected officials and staffers at the local, state, and national level, plus defense industry executives and military lobbyists, both retired and active duty. The report thanked them all for “dozens of meetings, conference calls and briefings with more than 150 people.” It recommended that the State formalize the then-informal Washington Military Alliance as a Governor’s advisory board with a strategy and a competitive grant program. This is what a war-based economy looks like.

3 Washington Military Alliance

The Washington Military Alliance (click to enlarge)

An eye-opening Memorandum of Agreement was signed on September 3, 2014, at about the same time the rest of us were learning of the Navy’s fait accompli, sneaking its Electronic Warfare Range Environmental Assessment past the public without a single comment from anyone. The purpose of this Washington Military Alliance is to “come together with one voice in response to potential cuts in defense spending.” This includes strong resistance to Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) attempts to reduce the military’s footprint and rein in defense spending. It should be noted that for every $1 spent on troops, $2 goes to the defense industry, and that if you add up all the components of defense spending – the real total, not counting spending by an army of lobbyists – it is around $1 trillion, according to a report by The American Conservative.

Raise your hand if you knew about this report or those meetings in 2012.

Of course, lavish spending, waste and outright ripoffs by the defense industry are nothing new. They’ve been happening since George Washington was president. What is new is the organization that’s been chartered to institutionalize it and jam it down everyone else’s throat. The report’s title pretty much says it all, but the question is: did those 150 people it thanked know of the scope and size of the military’s plans back then? If they did, why would they have endorsed it on behalf of their constituents who had no idea such massive plans for militarizing the region were coming? Maybe we should start asking if they knew.

4 Independent-Studies-Cropped

An interesting study on the effect of a funding source on the study’s outcome. (Click to enlarge)

This report represents some of the underpinnings for what’s been called an Economic Club in Washington.

While the Washington Military Alliance charter says membership is “inclusive,” not one member listed represents the viewpoint of people who question unlimited military spending and encroachment into non-military lands and waters. Or its effect on the environment. When you look at their news stories, it becomes clear that what we have here is basically a hybrid government-endorsed SuperPAC for the military and defense industry in Washington State, paid for by us.

The State is supposed to invest local monies in the local community, in health and public safety, and to return what’s not spent in the form of lower taxes. But this report makes sure that doesn’t happen. The number of States that are funding military base construction has increased significantly. The rationale? Risking taxpayer ire is easier than the risk of base closure, because bases are now regarded as “big commercial enterprises” too.

Here is a paragraph from that report: “The State should also initiate the formation of a working group that would investigate the establishment of Public-Private Partnerships that would focus on needed infrastructure upgrades at the bases that would ultimately benefit all participants. Some of the relevant areas that could be pursued are listed below, but are certainly not all inclusive:

  • Grid Upgrades / Grid Security
  • Wastewater Treatment Facilities
  • Communications Networks
  • Transit Systems (On-Base and Off-Base).”

In other words, the military wants to put States on the hook to pay for upgrades to military bases and the infrastructure around military bases. A quick glance at this short report from the Connecticut General Assembly shows some of the enormous amounts, and it is likely that communities across the nation that are not near military bases suffer disproportionately when it comes to maintaining and improving their infrastructures. And we are talking about billions going into funding bases from state government; infrastructure, roads, commissions, on and on. Because why? Because it is a blackmail situation with each state competing against 49 other states. Need more proof? Read the next paragraph.

Here’s another paragraph from the report: “The State should also consider amending the Public Records Act to exempt sensitive military base analysis information that pertains to specific base recommendations. The rationale is based on not sharing this “competition sensitive” information with bases in other states that have similar missions. There is president [sic] for this kind of legislative action as Florida has recently amended their laws to accommodate these type exemptions.”

6 Missiles - shipboard and air to air

This is breathtaking hubris on so many levels that we don’t even know where to begin. The Navy wants the State to amend a law that lets citizens learn what the government they pay for is doing, not because of national security, but for competitive business advantage? Yes. The military as business partner is the new model. President Eisenhower’s famous farewell address of January 17, 1961 could not have been more explicit or have found a starker example. Unless you consider this. And in our own Washington Congressional delegation, Rep. Adam Smith went on record saying he’s looking for opportunities to give the military even more money than the $609 billion they asked for this year.  The graph below, in which military spending has surpassed all other spending combined, tells part of the tale.

7 Discretionary spending pie chart

With largesse like that as our infrastructure and education and social safety net systems crumble, why wouldn’t the Navy continue full speed ahead, as if the loud opposition from ordinary people like us doesn’t matter? Because, quite frankly, if you read the lobbyists’  report, you’ll find it doesn’t. There isn’t a single mention of public participation or comment. There was no chance for us to give our elected officials feedback.

In separate actions, the Navy saw to it last year that a Washington State Senator who happens to also be a naval reserve officer introduced a bill to gut the State’s environmental protection law, or SEPA.

Princeton University study made this astonishing statement: “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” A summary of that study with a video and graphics is here.

 

A nonpartisan foundation found that between 2007 and 2012, America’s most politically active corporations spent a combined $5.8 billion lobbying Congress and contributing to congressional campaigns. In return for this, they received $4.4 trillion in taxpayer dollars, which was more than the entire Social Security payout for 50 million citizens over the same period. This report, another fait accompli, is one of the results of all that lobbying.

So, what can be done? Although it’s depressing to read all this, there are things you can do besides letter-writing (and don’t stop doing that, either)

Special Report KTVU Ten OClock News

A protest in Northern California.

First, the Candidate Peace Pledge: This is an election year, with the highest level of insanity in living memory. A lot of people are running for office in local and state elections, too. They are eager to meet constituents and gather votes. So, call them, go talk to them, explain the issues, and urge them to sign the Candidate Peace Pledge, which asks for three things:

  1. Work to end violence;
  2. Prioritize demilitarizing the economy; and,
  3. Clean up toxic military waste dumps.

What clear-headed candidate wouldn’t agree that these are public health and safety issues? What reasons could any true public servant give for refusing to sign that?

Second: Perhaps getting candidates to pledge (in writing) to work toward overturning the Supreme Court Citizens United decision, the one that gave corporations the power to buy elections by declaring them “people,” would be a good idea, too. Even if the prospective office the candidates seek doesn’t interact with campaign finance reform, they could be asked to sign resolutions of support. Which brings us to:

Third: Urge your local governing bodies to sign resolutions, especially the ones whose members were thanked this report. For guidance on writing a Resolution, see this site, from the American Library Association. Here’s an example of a brief, well-written resolution, on a health issue in New Jersey.  Once your resolution is ready, ask for time on the agenda, and present the background behind your resolution. Ask the council, chamber, or whatever governing body it is, to sign it, and then take it to the next governing body for their signature. And the next.

Your efforts have made a difference already. Thanks to the 3,000+ people who commented in November 2014 and wrote thousands of letters, the Forest Service has still not signed the permit that would turn over national forest roads to the Navy. Thanks to your letters to a variety of officials, elected and appointed officials are becoming aware of the depth and breadth of public opposition to this unnecessary expansion of military combat testing and training into places where it should not be.

Don’t let up. Continue to hold them accountable. They are supposed to work for us.

President Barack Obama delivers a health care address to a joint session of Congress at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., Sept. 9, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

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Navy SEALs training 8 weeks longer than expected, wildlife agencies excluded

February 23, 2016 – New documents show Navy SEALs training 8 weeks longer than previously thought: Federal wildlife agencies excluded.

1 Where the Birds are - arcgis viewer

Where the seabirds are. The darker the color, the more birds. See key below for actual numbers, but in the purple grids there can be more than 3,000 seabirds in a 2-mile area. Click image to enlarge it.

2 Where the birds are - key

This is what’s happening on 68+ beaches and State Parks in western Washington:

3 SEALs coming ashore

An email and an internal draft of a biological assessment obtained by the West Coast Action Alliance reveal the Navy’s intent to extend their secret and massive SEALs training program on 68+ beaches and Washington State Parks from January 1 to May 31, 2016, and to bypass consultations with federal wildlife agencies. The two Navy slide shows previously obtained by Truthout (12,) had indicated the training would start in mid-January and conclude in mid-April.

Springtime is when places like the Salish Sea are vital for nesting birds. Nursing whale mothers don’t like disturbance, either.

A photogrammetry image of the entire I16 matriline of Northern Resident killer whales taken in 2014. This image shows the size of whales at different ages. Note the small, gray calf in the middle (I144), only a few months old, swimming to the right of its mother (I51). To the left of the mother is the calf’s older sibling (I129). Images to be used for health assessment. Credit: NOAA Fisheries, Vancouver Aquarium. Taken by UAV from above 90 feet under Fisheries and Oceans Canada research permit and Transport Canada flight authorization. More information at http://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/podcasts/2015/10/uav_killer_whale.html

A photogrammetry image of the entire I16 matriline of Northern Resident killer whales taken in 2014. This image shows the size of whales at different ages. Note the small, gray calf in the middle (I144), only a few months old, swimming to the right of its mother (I51). To the left of the mother is the calf’s older sibling (I129). Images to be used for health assessment. Credit: NOAA Fisheries, Vancouver Aquarium.

These documents, from December 2015, contradict the statement made by a Navy spokesperson in January, who said: “As far as I know, everything is in the very, very beginning planning stages, period. There has been no decision made on anything. Everything is speculation at this point.”

Read it for yourself. Does this look like “beginning stages?” Is it speculation? The Navy doesn’t waste its time doing biological assessments for “speculation.” The purpose for this one was to justify avoiding consultations with federal agencies. It was done 15 days before the training was to start. That’s not enough time to do anything but try to cover one’s legal backside.

list of training sites for 2016 is included. Which means the other training sites in the two slide shows were for previous years. Which means decisions have been made, and it’s game on. From reading the multiple documents and in the absence of further information from wildlife agencies, it should be assumed that the SEAL combat training has been taking place in these areas since 2014.

5 plover nest

What some nests look like. Think they’ll see that in the dark?

According to the Navy’s internal biological assessment, the purpose of the training is “to provide a “real world” environment for Special Forces personnel to practice stealth tactics” (translate: in civilian communities) and “to maneuver in the water and across land undetected.” It acknowledged that by law the Navy must assess impacts to endangered species, and it laid out three choices: No effect; May affect; and May affect, likely to adversely affect. It also acknowledged the requirement to consult with federal agencies if any impacts were anticipated; this obligation extends to assessing impacts to Essential Fish Habitat, under the Magnusen-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, and consulting with the State and with the National Marine Fisheries Service if any impacts are anticipated.

6 Plover on nest

A plover on its nest on the beach.

The “problem” was neatly solved by the Navy claiming in its internal biological assessment that since there would be no impacts, there would be no need to consult with the agencies. That equaled no notification at all. A call to the Fish and Wildlife Service in January confirmed that they had had no idea that the massive SEALs training program was about to begin for 2016, and no idea that it had been occurring since 2014. The FWS confirmed a keen interest in consulting with the Navy about potential impacts.

7 Salmon habitat

UW map showing critical habitat for Chinook Salmon, Steelhead Trout, Chum Salmon, and the Puget Sound Chinook Salmon. And the Navy didn’t bother to tell wildlife agencies?

Some logical conclusions:

  • One would think that commandeering 68+ beaches and State Parks from January 1 through late Spring might affect nesting birds and other sensitive species, and therefore be of interest to wildlife agencies.
  • One might rightfully question the Navy’s own expertise in assessing impacts to wildlife, since it has called whales “obstacles to safe navigation” in reports and says the purpose of its Joint Land Use Plans with communities is to ensure the Navy’s own activities continue unimpeded.
  • Given that the Navy refuses to allow wildlife agencies to assist them with the training they need to recognize sensitive species, one might question the above even more.
  • One would be correct in assuming a public process is required in order to close off access to public lands. The answer to “Aren’t such arbitrary and unannounced closures outside the law?” is yes.
  • Even if they get in and out undetected, it’s still psychologically intrusive for users of those beaches and State Parks, the mission for which includes not one word about “Realistic Military Training.” It’s disturbing to think of having armed Navy SEAL kill teams practicing in the midst of families enjoying their State Parks. (Read the two slide shows to confirm the fact that these teams will be armed.)
  • We should all be questioning the “wisdom” of normalizing military combat training in civilian communities where it does not normally occur.

So, after all this, could anyone claim with a straight face that the Navy is even trying to be a good neighbor?

8 CL_Birds_Puffin_byCHansonOCA

Tufted puffin, a species in decline. Photo credit: C. Hanson.

Obviously, not everything the Navy does can be public knowledge. But to conceal such a massive program from state and federal agencies is inexcusable. While the West Coast Action Alliance is not against training our military, we object to doing it in the places where we live, work, and recreate. We object to concealing it from appropriate oversight of state and federal agencies. And the fact that public informed consent is completely absent from any of the Navy’s massive encroachments on our communities and the wildlife in this region merely adds insult to injury.

 

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