February 10, 2016 – How the Navy gets its way, Part 3: It’s not accountable to anyone.
Recently someone asked: “Over the last 16 months, the Navy has upped the ante as they add components to their plans that increase both areas of operation as well as scope of their mission. I have to say that I have not been able to keep up with it all. They want to do a bunch of stuff. If not here, then where? It is obvious that they intend to pursue an integrated battle plan that includes onshore, offshore, and aerial practice. When we get asked, ‘Where can they go play?’ what do we say? At the very least I’d like to point to a spot on a chart and say ‘here is where the offshore activities should take place.’ Where is that spot?”
It’s a good question, and the answer is complex. First: This intense buildup is all about the Pivot to Asia and concentrating military assets on the west coast; that partly explains all the construction.
Second: Know that most components of military activity have long been planned in great detail; obviously they can’t tell us everything they do. But we have a right to know when warfare is being practiced among us in ways that affect our safety, health, peace of mind, economies, and wildlife. There are laws that affirm this. So when the Navy doesn’t bother to announce its plans until the last minute, long after each component is a done deal, contracts are signed and there’s no alternative choice left, the public has a right to feel cuckolded. When they give you a couple of weeks to read 4,000 pages and try to make sense of it so you can comment, it’s pretty clear they don’t want to hear from you. The Navy doesn’t want to hear criticism from reporters either: in wartime, the Pentagon reserves the right to treat journalists like spies. And guess what – it’s always wartime. Employees who whistleblow don’t fare well, either. So how is the public supposed to know? We’ve had NO SAY in Navy plans that affect our lives.
With regard to training at sea, there are seasonal boundaries that would allow the Navy to avoid training in certain areas where, say, whale and fish migration, or peak feeding activities occur, by waiting until those biological peaks are over. But guess what – they refuse to honor those requests from federal and state agencies, and in the Gulf of Alaska last year they did a cannonball into the pool in July, at the peak of animal (and fishing) activity, in exactly the geographic middle of it.
War doesn’t wait for good weather, so why should warfare practice be in ideal conditions? Had they waited a month, those 30 whales might not all have died. So, to answer the question, temporal factors could make a difference offshore. Click here for a description of at-sea activities from the latest EIS, called Northwest Training and Testing.
It’s worth noting that the Navy has been operating since October 2015 without an endangered species permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service, because the Biological Opinion is not yet finished. But the Navy is not accountable to wildlife.
The Navy is not accountable to Tribes, either. How come Tribes don’t have all the information they need in order to know what’s coming? Why aren’t all Tribes being consulted, and why did those who were consulted have their concerns ignored?
With regard to SEALs training in 68 beaches, state parks and residential neighborhoods, it is NEVER okay for the military to invade our communities in order to practice on us as if we’re the enemy. The Preamble to the United States Constitution clearly says “establish justice and ensure domestic tranquility.” Military combat in our midst is the antithesis of justice and domestic tranquility. How many families will feel comfortable using State Parks knowing that armed SEALs are required to stay hidden during these exercises for up to 72 hours? The Navy did this in secret, without properly notifying state or federal agencies, because they knew getting approval would be difficult at best, and that the public would never buy it on such a huge scale. So they sneaked, and got caught. But that’s not stopping them. They’ve been doing it since 2014 and may be continuing right now. The Navy is not accountable to state and federal agencies.
With regard to the Growler jets, the Navy has not proven that it needs the Olympic Peninsula to practice in; Yakima Training (Firing) Range is a 9-minute flight from Whidbey, 4 minutes longer in the air than Olympic National Park. The rationale they used to justify disturbing the world-renowned tranquility of a World Heritage Site in the 2014 EA (saving $4 or $5 million in fuel plus more time with families) doesn’t wash when fuel savings are compared with economic and health impacts to communities, and when 4 minutes per flight is all the extra family time they’re talking about. Practicing short-runway landings does not have to be done at sea level. (A retired Navy carrier pilot told us this.) An active-duty Navy pilot said that the location for the training doesn’t matter – see #4 in this comparison of spoken and written remarks. So, if location doesn’t matter, why trade such tiny savings for so much public misery and anger?
The mission and home of the Growler jets is at Naval Air Station Lemoore in California. They also have a large area in Nevada in which to practice. Repeat: The Growler mission is not in Washington. But thanks to Congressman Rick Larsen and Washington’s two silent Senators Cantwell and Murray, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island is becoming a mega-base. It’s also handy when ships at sea can use the mobile emitters that the Forest Service plans to let drive on forest roads, though that has never been mentioned in any NEPA document. According to an email obtained via Freedom of Information Act request, there are at least 275 “events” per year planned between the mobile emitters and ships at sea. Did anyone outside the Forest Service and Navy know that?
So let’s get back to the question: Where is that spot they can practice? Don’t they have enough places already?
Here’s a map inventory of all DoD lands. It’s an enormous amount of acreage and airspace around the world, so why can’t they keep using the land the public gave them? Why must they now invade our communities?
The real reason the Navy wants the Olympic Peninsula is to have their own playground. Branches of the armed services are notoriously aggressive toward each other, and the the Navy, which is emerging as the dominant service, can’t get priority with schedulers at non-Navy bases and the millions of acres owned by other branches of the armed services. The Navy doesn’t like its chain being jerked, so it’s establishing its own range, over our communities. Because it can. It’s truly that simple.
Unfortunately, the Master Agreement of 1988 that both the Forest Service and the Navy love to tout says the Navy must demonstrate that no other Defense Department lands are available for these activities. Clearly, they have not done that.
THE POINT IS: It’s not up to citizens to find a place for them to practice, it’s up to the Department of Defense to do a better job at range management.
The Navy and Marines own dozens of miles of beaches in Southern California, and control more than 40 miles of coastline in the Pacific Northwest, so usurping public parks and residential communities for combat training is not about running out of room. It’s called “Realistic Military Training,” which is what they did during Jade Helm last summer.
Armed SEAL patrols have been sneaking around in residential communities to train among “friendly” and “hostile” civilians without getting caught, to get the feel of doing it in combat areas overseas. They did not give any of us a choice on this. The military did not give the residents of Flint, Michigan a choice, either. The Army went in last summer and held combat exercises in that poor city, marching in formations and firing weapons and blowing up a school field. Residents were terrified. Talk about hitting them when they’re down.
Yakima Testing Range is a great example of the Pentagon’s land management problems. It is severely underutilized, yet the Army wants to fire rockets into South Puget Sound instead of driving 67 measly miles to use its own firing range. Because they can. We are not making this up: In March 2016 they will fire 27 rockets over residential neighborhoods and an Indian reservation, just to see how badly sonic booms, flashes and explosions annoy people. It’s a trial run for permanently using South Puget Sound as a firing range.
Here’s a GAO (Government Accounting Office) report showing what a crappy job the armed services are doing managing the lands they already have. In an audit by GAO several years ago, the Navy scored lowest in making improvements in range utilization. GAO requested an updated report on Navy range utilization in 2005. That report is more than a decade overdue. This doesn’t even begin to address the fact that 900 of EPA’s 1300 Superfund sites are military.
One more thing: Before they try to claim these other DoD lands that could be used are too full or too tightly scheduled, we need to remind them that by training foreign militaries on US bases (Australia, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, the list goes on, here is a map) they are electing to use taxpayer dollars to train these foreign militaries and then to use that to help justify the need to usurp public and private lands and waters for more space in which to train.
So, we have an answer to the Navy and the other armed services who cannot manage their own lands because they can’t get along with each other, and who are not accountable to the people who pay for their salaries and equipment: CLEAN UP YOUR OWN DAMN HOUSE BEFORE YOU CRAP ALL OVER OURS.