Timeline: Significant events in Navy expansion into civilian communities, public lands and waters of Olympic Peninsula.
1988 – Master Agreement, USDA and DoD, on use of national forest lands for military purposes. Significance: DoD must “determine and substantiate that lands under its administration are unsuitable or unavailable,” and the agreement “does not apply to the use of airspace… unless directly associated with land-based training.”
1989 – Initiation of EIS for all air operations at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NASWI). Document not available.
1990 – Most recent Forest Plan for Olympic National Forest finalized.
1993 – Publication/distribution of draft EIS, begun in 1989, for all air ops at NASWI.
1999 – Termination of draft EIS for all air ops at NASWI. Process ended. Significance: After this, the Navy piecemealed its NEPA processes.
2005 – Navy EA, replacement of Prowlers with Growlers. Significance: It promised a 36% and 16% reduction, respectively, in the number of persons in surrounding areas exposed to aircraft noise greater than 65 decibels. Did not deliver on that promise.
2007 – Navy produces fuel dumping guidelines. No scientific corroboration or consultation on environmental effects available.
2008 – Navy Super Hornet Noise Audit. Finds noise protections inadequate. Super Hornets are not as loud as Growlers.
2009 – Navy report on jet engine noise reduction. Significance: Finds inadequate risk assessment for its own personnel, which places claims of no significant impacts under suspicion. “Although the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is spending over $1 billion per year for hearing loss cases, there are no data to correlate hearing loss claims to flight deck noise exposure. Approximately 28% of the VA hearing loss claims are for the Department of the Navy, but data do not exist on the environment that caused the hearing loss.”
2010 – Navy requests first of four Temporary Special Use Permits (SUP) from Forest Service (2010 through 2012; 2013; maps for 2014 permit) to run one Mobile Emitter for testing feasibility of ground-based EW program. Significance: Permits granted each year from 2010-2014, inclusive, but public is unaware of it. Maps show Navy is using public roads for EW training, too. WADOT unaware of use by Navy of public roads for EW training.
2010 – August 12 – Biological Opinion issued by USFWS for Northwest Training Range Complex (NWTRC.) Does not cover impacts to species on Olympic Peninsula. Does not cover use of Mobile Emitters in Olympic National Forest. However, this is the document, nearly expired in its 5-year period of validity, that the Navy used in the 2014 EA to justify no significant impacts on Olympic Peninsula from mobile emitters on Olympic National Forest roads.
2010 – November 11 – Biological Opinion issued by NMFS for NWTRC, (Northwest Training Range Complex) good for June 2010 through June 2015. Navy estimates 650,000 marine mammal takes in 5 years.
2010 – Finalized EIS, NW Training Range Complex. Despite Navy claims it does not cover Olympic National Forest ground activity, or evaluate impacts to listed species on Olympic Peninsula.
2012 – Final Navy Environmental Assessment and FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact) on transition from Prowler to Growler. “No significant impacts.”
2012 – Navy emails (multiple) to Forest Service (obtained via FOIA) describing intentions to drive mobile electronic warfare emitter vehicles (MEWTs) beyond the boundaries of MOAs to “optimize and vary training scenarios” as well as offering training for the “at-sea surface community.” Significance: WADOT unaware of this until Spring 2015, and admits no permit category exists for conducting electronic warfare training with mobile emitters on public roads or in populated areas.
2012 – Quietly and with little public notice, the Washington Military Alliance is formed. A blueprint report for expansion of military spending and presence in Washington State is signed by dozens of elected officials.
2012 – October 16 – NMFS issues Letter of Authorization to Navy for take of marine mammals in Northwest Testing and Training Range. Permit good from November 2012 through November 2015. Level B Harassment allows for take of 129,599 marine mammals per year and allows take to exceed limits by 10 to 25%, depending on species.
2013 – January – In an internal document, Forest Service requests from Navy actual impact to species from electronic emitter beams, but acknowledges there is enough guidance from NEPA to continue forward with incomplete information. Significance: Recommended path forward is for FS to adopt the Navy’s EA. FS employees question whether emitters will affect existing communications tools. If FS adopts EA, all 3 national forests would sign for Special Use Permit. If FS adopts EA, all 3 national forests would sign for Special Use Permit.
2013 – August – Forest Service employees provide review and comment to Navy on a Preliminary Release Draft EA. Significance: Very critical of EA; it does not meet minimum FS standards for completeness; the contractors never contacted a FS NEPA official or resource specialists; effects analysis for non-listed species vague; all species on the Forest Management Indicator Species and Region 6 Sensitive, Threatened, and Endangered Species Lists need to be addressed and call made on these species; guidelines for noxious weeds not addressed; and “I do not see any list of the issues raised by the public or internally about this project. This is something that the Forest Service would normally incorporate in Chapter 1.” Many more concerns listed.
2013 – December – NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service approves the Navy’s five-year plan for sonar and ordinance use in the Pacific Ocean—even though the military’s own data show that the activities would inflict harm on marine mammals 9.6 million times. The plan represents a 1,100 percent increase in incidents of harm to whales and dolphins.
2014 – January – A coalition of environmental groups sues the National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to fulfill its obligations (complaint here) and protect marine mammals from the Navy’s sonar and explosives, such as declaring certain areas off-limits when whales are feeding or mating. The Navy responded that it had set aside a plot of sea—3.1 miles in length—near the Hawaiian coast to protect humpback whales and contended that any additional restrictions would hamper its operational ability in the 2.7 million square miles it operates in.
2014 – January – Draft EIS for NW Testing and Training. Sea-based sonar, explosive and warfare training activities vastly expanded, 3 volumes, 4,000 pages. Comment period extended after numerous requests.
2014 – early August – Draft EA on use of Forest Service roads for EW training. Plans are to drive mobile electronic warfare emitters (MEWTs) to 15 locations in the Olympic National Forest simulating “bad guys” while jets overhead detect them and respond with jamming and simulated harm shoots using directed energy weaponry. MEWTs to be surrounded by a 100-foot “Hazardous Radiation” perimeter. Comment period lasted 15 days instead of the usual 30. No public notices placed in affected areas except for one 8X11” paper posted in window of Forks post office. Not one comment received from elected officials, tribes, groups, or individuals. EA describes electronic surveillance and detection, but the only description of electronic attack occurs in a supporting document that says loss of civilian life is possible due to interference with emergency communications systems.
2014 – August 18 – Navy sends letter to USFWS telling them no need to reopen ESA consultation for a Biological Opinion. They intend to use 2010 BiOp for impacts to 2020. This BiOp was for a different program and did not cover the affected areas on the Olympic Peninsula.
2014 – August 28 – Navy issues FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact) a week after EA comment period closes. Admits it received no comments, and implies that due to lack of public interest, no EIS is needed. EA-18G Growler jets are twice as loud as the EA-6 Prowlers they replaced, and flights have increased more than 400% in recent years. Jet noise was not discussed in EA.
2014 – September 24 – Forks Forum breaks the story, word starts to spread.
2014 – early October – Forest Service 15-day comment period on ROD to issue permit to Navy for use of its roads is scheduled to end. District Ranger tells public his “decision space” concerns only the effects of MEWT wheels on forest roads, plus noise from MEWT generators. Jet noise, pollution, and weaponized directed energy impacts are “outside of his decision space.” (See video of Port Angeles meeting for that statement: https://vimeo.com/album/3121050)
2014 – October-November – three contentious public meetings at request of Rep. Derek Kilmer, but no NEPA hearings. Forest Service is compelled by public outrage to extend comment period twice. Forest Service publicly admits it did no independent investigation to verify or validate Navy claims of no significant impacts. At Pacific Beach meeting, Forest Service fails to show up. The NW Electronic Warfare Range Manager tells a panelist, “We’re here to listen to them, but we’re not going to do anything about their complaints because we don’t have to.” More than 3,000 comments pour in by November 28 deadline. Another 800 come in post-deadline. A comparison between what the Navy said at meetings and what it has written in emails and other documents can be found here.
2014 – November 7 – Navy writes to National Marine Fisheries Service: “REQUEST FOR LETTERS OF AUTHORIZATION FOR THE INCIDENTAL HARASSMENT OF MARINE MAMMALS RESULTING FROM U.S. NAVY TRAINING AND TESTING ACTIVITIES IN THE NORTHWEST TRAINING AND TESTING STUDY AREA.”
2014 – early December – Navy holds scoping meetings for another EIS, on addition of 36 EA-18G Growler jets to fleet of 82 already at Whidbey Island. No EIS was done for existing 82 jets, and the new EIS only covers effects of 36 jets on immediate vicinity of Whidbey Island, not surrounding communities or west end of Olympic Peninsula.
2014 – mid-December – Navy issues Supplemental Draft to EIS for NW Testing and Training. Sixth NEPA process in twelve months. A significant expansion of the January 2014 EIS, including more sonobuoys (from 20 to 720) and more restrictions on the public such as more bridge closures, more private vessel boardings, and 1-hour notices to vacate areas of Naval activity, that will require fishermen to abandon deployed gear such as pots.
2015 – January – Navy issues EA for conversion of Ediz Hook in Port Angeles Harbor to a submarine escort vessel base, with increased restrictions on harbor traffic.
2015 – January – Elizabeth May, Member of Parliament for Canada’s Gulf Islands/Saanich, sends a letter to US Ambassador Bruce Heyman expressing the concerns of her constituents about “considerable noise from jets, which can be disruptive” and asking for them to be re-routed. She also complained about the increase in sonar activity having adverse impacts on marine life, including the endangered South Resident Orca whale population and Leatherback turtles.
2015 – February 15 – State Senate bill 5969 introduced to amend (translate: gut) the State Environmental Policy Act. Sponsored by a Naval Reserve Officer. Bill killed by public opposition in March, reintroduced on May 29 in 2nd Session, then again on June 28 at 3rd Session, and killed again when the Senate adjourned.
2015 – February 27 – Peter Goldmark, Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands, sends letter to Rear Admiral Jeffrey Ruth, US Navy declining to participate in Navy EW training. February 27, 2015
2015 – March – Via citizen FOIA and a query, WADOT and the public become aware of four years of temporary permits for mobile electronic warfare transmitter vehicles on Olympic National Forest roads, plus Navy intent to drive mobile emitters on public roads beyond boundaries of Military Operating Areas in order to maximize realistic training scenarios. WADOT has not heard about this, has never received an application for a permit, and is stunned. State Senate staffer contacts Navy to ask about driving on public roads while emitting, and 4 years of temporary permits. Navy says, “We haven’t been doing that. We don’t even have the mobile emitters built yet.”
2015 – March – Forest Service announces “listening sessions” (one in each state: WA, OR and CA) for updating and amending its Forest Plan. Letter from 11 Members of Congress in all 3 states results in a few additional meetings. Public concerned about weakening of Forest Plan protections for endangered species and tree harvesting limits.
2015 – April – Forest Service announces, via Schedule of Planned Activities, its intent to adopt the Navy’s 2014 EA in September 2015, and to issue the 5-year Special Use Permit in October.
2015 – April – 9th Circuit Court rules Navy’s training in Hawaii and Southern California violates the law. (Summary Judgement here)
2015 – April – Citizens of the Ebey’s Reserve, represented by Seattle attorney David Mann, file an injunction against the Navy, on the grounds of medical harm from jet noise
2015 – April – USFWS and Navy reinitiate formal consultation under Section 7 of ESA, for at least 3 species: marbled murrelet, spotted owl and bull trout. Final document expected in October. In the same month FWS announces positive 90-day finding on reclassification of spotted owl from threatened to endangered; another study to be published in June, with more dire news expected. Spotted owls have abandoned nesting habitat along the WA coast for ten miles inland. Unknown is whether proposed species such as the fisher, or candidate species, or species of concern, such as the tufted puffin, whose numbers plummeted from 23,342 birds at 35 known sites in 1984, to 2,958 individuals at 19 sites in 2009, and is having less than 40% fledgling success, will be addressed.
2015 – May – Forest Service announces it will hire a contractor to evaluate all 3300 public comments on the issuance of a permit for Navy to operate its electronic warfare movie emitters on national forest roads, and that the decision on the permit will not take place until early 2016.
2015 – May – Congressman Derek Kilmer (D-WA) requests a “neutral review” of noise impacts to Olympic National Park.
2015 – June – Navy begins exercises in Gulf of Alaska using high- and mid-frequency sonar for submarine exercises, plus a wide variety of live weapons and explosives deployment – 350,000 lbs of bombs per year, heavy deck guns, torpedoes, missiles, large carrier strikes (ships blown up & sunk) none of which will ever be recovered. Although military training exercises have been conducted in the GOA intermittently for the last 30 years, those proposed in the current EIS are a massive increase from any conducted before (e.g. a 6,500% increase in sonobuoys). EIS for Gulf of Alaska states: “…little is known about the very important issues of nonmortality damage in the short and long-term, and nothing is known about effects on behavior of fish.” No studies of acute or cumulative impacts from chemical pollution or sonar cited in EIS. Washington State endangered salmon runs occur in this area, but are not specifically addressed in NEPA or SEPA documents.
2015 – July – Forest Services publishes a notice that it still plans to adopt Navy’s Environmental Assessment and will likely issue the permit in October 2015, despite 99.9% of the 3300 public comments being against it. This contradicts the May announcement.
2015 – September – A federal court ruled that the government has fallen short of its legal obligation to protect marine mammals from naval exercises in the Pacific. Federal Judge Susan Oki Mollway rejected the arguments made by the Navy and the National Marine Fisheries Service that an 1,100 percent increase in incidents of harm to whales and dolphins is acceptable.
2015 – October 2 – Final EIS for Northwest Training and Testing: Volume 1 Volume 2 Volume 3 Volume 4 Appendix on World Heritage Site analysis. No public comment period. None of the 3 required consultations with federal and state agencies completed. Record of Decision slated to be signed 30 days later.
2015 – October 13 – West Coast Action Alliance and Olympic Forest Coalition send Joint Memorandum to Navy on flawed analyses and NEPA process. Letter from UNESCO expressing concern accompanies letter. Public sends comment letters to Navy despite no comment period.
2015 – November – Navy postpones signing Record of Decision on NWTT EIS until end of year.
2015 – November 6 – Navy abruptly cancels consultation with State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO, pronounced “Shippo.”) November 19: President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation writes a letter to the Navy that is critical of the abrupt and unexpected termination of consultation with (SHPO, pronounced “Shippo.”)
2015 – November 12 – NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service completes consultation and Biological Opinion on endangered species, and grants Navy an incidental take permit for Pacific Northwest waters. (Details here.)
2016 – January – US Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Opinion, overdue on the Navy’s October 2, 2015 EIS for Northwest Training and Testing, is slated to be published. Navy’s Record of Decision not issued as of end of January.
2016 – January – Documents (1, 2, 3) are leaked to Truthout News showing Navy SEALs plan to use (and have been using since 2014) 68+ beaches and State Parks in western Washington. Other documents show that state and federal agencies were unaware of this activity, and were not consulted about impacts to endangered species, migratory birds, or cultural and historic properties.
2016, July 15 – The 9th Circuit Court granted an appeal filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council that reversed a lower court decision upholding NOAA’s 2012 approval for the Navy to use low-frequency sonar for training, testing and routine operations. Specifically, this case was about the Navy’s towed low-frequency sonar array, which is so powerful that there are only 4 ships doing it, in 4 separate oceans. It’s for surveillance, and each sonar blast is at least 215 decibels and lasts for sixty seconds. It’s low-frequency so the noise travels for thousands of miles, affecting whales and other animals that depend on sound. The court did not address the Navy’s other sonar use in this decision, but it did make a distinction between peacetime and wartime use, in effect saying to NMFS, the law says you have to mitigate in peacetime, and you didn’t.
2016, July 21 – The US Fish and Wildlife Service completes its Biological Opinion, 9 months after the Navy’s Final EIS for Northwest training and Testing. The BiOp covered not only the Northwest Training and Testing EIS, but was also retrofitted to apply to the August 2014 Electronic Warfare Range EA. It resulted in a permit to the Navy, for take of endangered and threatened species. This delay and retrofit were unprecedented – for a federal agency to wait two years after issuing a Finding of No Significant Impact is highly questionable, and likely a reflection of the level of concern that use of sonar and explosives at the levels the Navy wanted could cause adverse impacts to listed species like the marbled murrelet. Leaked emails from the Navy show a willingness to violate the Endangered Species Act.
2016, November – The Forest Service announces its decision to issue the Navy a permit to allow electronic warfare training in Olympic National Forest. It opens a 45-day objection period, and thousands more objections pour in.
2016, December – The Navy releases its Draft Growler Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS,) detailing huge increases in jet noise, including a 600% increase in low-level training operations at Outlying Field Coupeville, exposure of nearly 3,500 more children to noise at health-damaging levels, and interruptions in some classrooms at rates of 45 times per hour. A typical training day around OLF Coupeville would have 10 different Growlers doing 10 touch and goes each totaling 100 loops around the airfield. This would be spread over both day and night training and would happen on 175 days of the year. Since training is needed when squadrons are scheduled to deploy, this intense activity would be 5 days/week for 3-4 weeks at a time, pause for 3-4 weeks, then resume.
2017 – After a delay of more than two years, the Forest Service signs the permit to allow the Navy to use Olympic National Forest for electronic warfare training.
2017 – A citizens group called the Sustainable Economy Collaborative issues a report authored by nationally-known economist Michael H. Shuman – Invisible Costs, detailing among many things that over a 10 year period, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island has cost Island County $122 million dollars. A brief report summary is here.
2017 – 2,000 people whose drinking water was contaminated by a mile-long expanding underground plume coming from firefighting foam used for training purposes on the Navy’s runways, are forced to turn to bottled water for home use. As the plume expands, more families find their wells contaminated. At least 664 sites nationwide are slated to be examined by the Department of Defense, including sites at Puget Sound. An EPA study finds that 6 million Americans in 33 states are dealing with contaminated drinking water from perfluorinated chemicals.
2017 – November 16 – A Navy flight crew draws a giant phallus in the sky, enraging local people who are already bothered by their noise.
2018 – The state House and Senate introduce bills with language worded so loosely that control of land use incompatibility decisions by local governments could conceivably be turned over to military commanders. After a flurry of public outrage with media articles, the bills are defeated. The sponsor of the House bill, Rep. Kristine Reeves, is also the paid executive director of the Washington Military Alliance, and her salary there is paid by the Department of Defense. The Washington Military Alliance has goals that would not only do this but also weaken the state’s Public Records Act in order to allow business information between the Department of Defense and defense contractors to be removed from public view.
2018 – The Navy opens for comment an Environmental Assessment (EA) for Special Operations in which Navy SEALs stage covert small team landings via mini-subs and small boats, with up to 20 personnel concealing themselves ashore for up to 72 hours, plus mock gun battles with paintballs, called “direct actions.” Although the Navy owns 46 miles of shoreline in the Pacific Northwest and over 151,000 acres of land here, this combat training will occur in residential communities, boat marinas, 65+ state parks and public beaches, and on some private lands along a 265-mile stretch of western Puget Sound and the outer coast.