During the Bush administration – it continues under Obama – the Department of the Navy (DON) divided the coasts and oceans into a series of “testing range complexes” (TRC) driven by five-year plans to conduct warfare exercises. They already conduct these tests in the Atlantic (and recently announced a notice of intent to expand this area), the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific.
Additionally, after the public comment period ends on October 11, 2010, the Navy will conduct a plethora of war exercises along 122,400 nautical miles of air, surface and subsurface space in Northern California, Oregon and Western Washington.
To be sure, such testing is in accordance with Title 10, Section 5062 of the US Code that provides:
Get our free emails
The Navy shall be organized, trained and equipped primarily for prompt and sustained combat incident to operations at sea … responsible for the preparation of Naval forces necessary for the effective prosecution of war … with Integrated Joint Mobilization Plans … to meet the needs of war.
Perhaps people take war games for granted because such testing is provided for in this code (fewer conspiracy theories if information is public?). But this information is not trickling down to the people it will affect. If anything, DON appears cagey about how it informs the public about its intentions.
Treat ‘Em Rough … and Tell ‘Em Nothing
Rosalind Peterson is president and co-founder of Agriculture Defense Coalition (ADC). In a recent Raising Sand Radio interview she said, “In Mendocino County (CA) there was a one-by-one inch ad in local papers of the smallest communities that the Navy could find in northern California, Oregon and Washington. In Oregon they advertised in tiny communities with a total of about 250 people each. They didn’t publicize in the capital, Bend, or Portland or other, larger cities at all.”
Aides in California Sen. Barbara Boxer’s office seemed to know little, if anything, about the Northwest Training Research Complex (NWTRC) when ADC’s Peterson contacted them. A spokesperson said Boxer would “look into it.”
Peterson said, “If Senator Diane Feinstein and Congressman Thompson knew about it they did not notify their constituents along California’s northwest coast.”
War Games: Pacific Northwest
The Navy acknowledges that some testing is highly classified, therefore, the tests are not shared with the public at all. Its 1,000 page NWTRC Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) notes that the tests conducted off the Pacific Northwest coast will “take” an estimated 11 million marine mammals, about 2.7 million per year. A “take” is “a significant disruption in marine mammal foraging, breeding and other essential behaviors”; death is implied.
The take for decimated fish and bird life and the life that supports them is not mentioned. Neither is the take for civilians in the zone conducting commercial and recreation enterprises during tests. Beyond directions to web sites for “Long-range advance notice of scheduled activities” local fishing, cruise ships, boating and daily aviation passenger carriers passing through test areas will not be informed on the days testing occurs.
These war games include “a total of 7,588 sorties … [of] fixed wing aircraft, helicopters, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (‘drones’), and naval vessels conducting exercises for 6,940 hours each year”(1) with mid- and high-frequency sonar, underwater constructions and detonations, bombing, missile and torpedo missions with arsenals from Hellfire missiles to drones and the use of air-, land- and water-borne “hazardous materials” (defined as solid, liquid, semi-solid, or gaseous “substances that pose a substantial hazard to human health or the environment by virtue of their chemical or biological properties”).
The list – “not exhaustive” – of chemical byproducts from underwater detonations, explosives, degradation products, failure and low-order detonations and components of training materials is extensive. Hazardous materials discharged overboard beyond 12 nautical miles include spent acid, alkali (“carefully neutralize, dilute and flush overboard …”); solvents; water with corrosion inhibitors; aircraft washdown waste water; and submarine missile tube waste water that includes heavy metals and cyanide.
Physical debris includes live and expended ordnance and casings, sunken vessels and blasted underwater construction.
Vessels, aircraft and military equipment used in these activities carry and use hazardous materials with directives to manage the storage, use and proper disposal of materials that may be harmful to the environment.
The list of materials to “Containerize for Shore Disposal” includes batteries, hydraulic fluids, insecticides, pesticides, waste oil, sludge, oily solid waste, grease, propellants, PCB and mercury in the form of fluorescent bulbs.(2)
Given the Navy’s history, how and where are these materials disposed once “containerized”?
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
The Navy has dumped explosives and other debris in the oceans for years. This is old news to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), oceanographers, environmental groups and the voiceless directly affected. According to ADC’s Peterson, there was a time when NOAA presented a map on their web site that showed 60 years of the Navy’s suspected dump zones in the Gulf of Mexico.
Greg Gardner of South Beach, Florida reports in Indian River Magazine, that, after World War II, “Closing Fort Pierce was a classic case of dump and run…. To this day, ordnance washes up on Hutchinson Island beaches several times a year after heavy surf. “
South Beach Mayor Bob Benton concurs. “They put trucks and tanks on barges and barges and dumped them in the Gulfstream…. Tons and tons of Army hardware, hand grenades and bombs.”
Off the California coast, drums and canisters leak radioactive material since the Navy dumped them, along with radioactive vessels, after tests conducted at its San Francisco’s Hunters Point facilities.(3)
The ongoing Superfund site clean up of former Naval Air Station, Alameda – at a cost, to date, of $428 million – regularly reveals mysterious contamination zones, sunken vessels and toxic burn pits. During a recent Navy-sponsored tour, local residents watched from the bus as Navy personnel measured radiation on the vehicle’s tires with Geiger counters.(4)
Yet, the vast majority of Americans know little about the Navy’s dumping and warfare activities. Should we, the people, not know that the Navy’s ongoing five-year warfare test plans require only one EIS per TRC? And that any EIS can be extended without informing the public at all? And that these on-going activities affect our own and all other forms of life?
Howard Garrett, president of the Whidbey-based Orca Network’s board of directors, says this includes “almost everything alive in the ocean. Anything with an air pocket in their bodies.” The Navy says it will conduct flyovers and set up watchers before performing potentially lethal sonar testing. “But, [for example] Orcas are by nature stealthy hunters. They traverse the entire Pacific Ocean, so they can be anywhere. They won’t be making noise so it will be extremely difficult for the Navy to know whether they are there before beginning testing.”
As Goes the Pacific Northwest, So Goes the Atlantic
Meanwhile, as research and testing continues off US coasts, the Navy recently announced its intent to prepare an EIS and Overseas EIS (OEIS) to evaluate:
… the potential environmental effects with military readiness training and research, development, testing and evaluation (RDT&E) activities in the Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing (AFTT) study area. This covers approximately 2.6 million square nautical miles of ocean area, which includes Navy operating areas (sea space) and warning areas (airspace). While the majority of Navy training and many testing activities take place within operating and warning areas and/or on RDT&E ranges, some activities, such as sonar maintenance and gunnery exercises, are conducted concurrent with normal transits and occur outside of operating and warning areas. [Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing Notice of IntentAtlantic Fleet Training and Testing Notice of Intent.]
That is, everything planned for the Pacific Northwest will be repeated – and improved – in the Atlantic.
ADC’s Peterson said, “Each one of these five-years-testing programs is immense … and very costly. We, the tax-paying public, will pay to replace all the bombs, missiles and other arsenal used for these live fire exercises; we will pay heavily for the environmental degradation of ocean, land and air; we will pay very heavily for the collapse of the marine mammal, fish and bird populations. We don’t realize that one set of activities has a wide-ranging set of consequences.”(5)
The Navy Way
The NWTRC EIS Resource Section: Socioeconomics addresses cost from the point of view of how unobtrusive Navy testing will be and how little it will impact civilians and businesses:
It is important to note that there are no restricted areas in the NWTRC. Normal right of way for fishing boats and all other vessels is honored throughout the range complex. In fact, to prevent interference during the conduct of their activities, Navy ships and aircraft intentionally seek areas clear of all other vessel traffic for conducting their training.(6)
The Table of Annual Commercial Landed Catch and Value within Washington Waters (2007) carefully records every fish of economic significance – over four dozen, from northern anchovy that, for example, generated $35,883 that year; to dungeness Crab, $54,479,797; to Sockeye salmon, $89,802; even to “Unspecified bait shrimp,” $219,648.
Then, “Due to the low level of Navy activities and the lack of interaction between the Navy and commercial interests, there are no expected revenue losses in any offshore industry…. “
Unsurprisingly, the EIS Socioeconomics segment concludes, “the Proposed Action would result in no significant impacts. Therefore, no mitigation measures are required.”
A Better Way
Those focused on one-dimensional “national security” in terms of military might makes right – rather than a complex, multilayered, integral system of living wonders that offer generative mysteries rather than threats – can be assured that the Navy and the other branches of the US military already have enough of our planet to conduct testing. It has been doing it for decades. It does not need – and should not have – even more of our precious, already stressed and shrinking planet.
Nevertheless, after three years and thousands of comments received by people and groups in the Pacific Northwest, Marianne Edain of Washington’s Whidbey Environmental Action Network (WEAN) perhaps sums it up, “I feel like a flea facing an elephant.”
1. NWTRC EIS – Hazardous Materials. Table 3.3-1: Number of Activities or Training Items Expended Annually – All Alternatives. Footnote 2, page 3.3-6.
2. NWTRC EIS – Hazardous Materials. Table 3.3-6: Selected Hazardous Materials Discharge Restrictions for Navy Vessels. Page 3.3-17.
3. Lisa Davis. SF Weekly. “Fallout.” May 9, 2001.
4. Author participates in the City of Alameda/Navy Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) monthly meetings, bus tour of NAS, Alameda, July 17, 2010.
5. Raising Sand Radio interview with Peterson. “US Navy Bombarding Our Oceans, Land and Atmosphere.”
6. NWTRC EIS – Socioeconomics. Page 3.14-7.