Congressman Derek Kilmer was met with a chilly reception at his Town Hall Meeting in the Peninsula College Little Theater Friday night. Several of Kilmer’s contentions regarding the Navy’s proposed Pacific Northwest Electronic Warfare Range (EWR) were especially bothersome to the crowd of over 200 people, almost all of whom opposed the EWR.
Kilmer is in the branch of government that serves as a check and balance on the Navy. But as the evening wore on, Kilmer repeatedly threatened to cut the meeting short. Each time it was in response to the crowd showing its concern over Kilmer appearing to take the Navy’s position on a particular issue. And each time he did so he asserted that he was not speaking for the Navy. This might have been technically correct because of the different branches of government involved, but Kilmer was clearly stating the Navy’s position. These were the very issues the crowd wanted Kilmer to know the Navy had wrong.
An Ambiguous Statement Regarding the USFWS
Kilmer, made the point that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had no concerns with the EWR’s fixed and mobile emitters proposed for the EWR. In making the point, Kilmer stated it broadly enough to appear that the USFWS had no concerns with the whole proposal – fixed and mobile emitters, as well as the EA-18G Growler electronic attack jets that would target the emitters, and the jets’ noise, pollution, and electronic warfare weapons. In reality, the USFWS has not made that determination. In fact, the USFWS cannot make such a determination because none of the Navy’s environmental documents adequately discuss how the jets’ training and testing in the EWR will affect the environment.
Unhelpful and Unwelcome Mitigating Measures
Kilmer spent a lot of time discussing “mitigating measures” that he was calling for the Navy to adopt – such as “hush houses” to reduce engine test noise; “chevrons” to reduce jet in-flight noise; a minimum flight elevation of 10,000 feet (whether above ground level or sea level was not specified); and prohibitions against the use of electronic attack weapons within the EWR. Implicit in this was the assumption that all would be well if those were adopted. Howevver, none of these “mitigating measures” would preserve either the “soundscape” or the “viewscape” of Olympic National Park, or prevent the negative reputation the proposed EWR is causing the whole Olympic Peninsula. Chevrons would increase fuel consumption and decrease performance for very little reduction in sound, and prohibiting the use of electronic attack weapons would be counter to the purpose of the EWR – to provide “fully trained” EA-18G Growler electronic attack squadrons. Whether for these reasons, or still others, Congressman Kilmer’s constituents at the meeting were clearly not impressed with these proposals. They would much rather have had him call upon the Navy to keep the training where it is successfully being done at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho.
Eloquent Requests for An EIS
Another hot topic were the eloquent requests by two speakers, Bev Goldie and Judith Parker, that Kilmer call upon the Navy to do a complete environmental impact statement (EIS) on the EWR. Kilmer’s responses were especially exasperating to the crowd.
He told Ms. Goldie that it was dangerous for a member of Congress to get involved in the process specified by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for the consideration of environmental issues. Kilmer’s example was a recent bill to exempt the KXL Pipeline from NEPA. A glaring difference, however, is that Ms. Goldie was asking Kilmer to ask the Navy to comply with NEPA. She was not asking Kilmer to exempt the Navy from NEPA. In our government’s system of checks and balances, it is most acceptable for a member of Congress to ask the Navy to follow the law.
In response to Ms. Parker, Kilmer attempted to make the point that the 2010 Northwest Training Range Complex EIS considered the environmental impacts of the EWR. That was also asserted by Kilmer at his Port Townsend Town Hall Meeting and in several letters to his constituents. In this respect, Kilmer is simply wrong. A reading of the 1,910 page document will prove that, but so will a reading of any of a number of tables in the document.
Table 3.16-1 lists, by area, the activities that will be conducted. For the EWR area, which is the area of the Olympic Military Operating Areas (MOAs), the only activities listed are Aerial Combat Maneuvers and HARM Missile Firing Exercises. According to this table, electronic combat training will only be conducted in the Darrington Area and Warning Area 237.
Table 3.3-8 lists the activities addressed in the EIS and the areas in which those activities will be conducted. For electronic combat, the only areas mentioned in which it will be conducted are again the Darrington Area and Warning Area 237. .
A Lot of Change Is Proposed
Also disappointing to the crowd was Kilmer’s repeated assertions that the Navy has been training in this area for years. His suggestion is that nothing would change. But change would occur, a lot of change. First, electronic combat training using ground based targets has only been conducted recently, and on a temporary, trial basis (and without proper NEPA evaluation). Second, from what the Navy says, that training has only included electronic support (detection). Electronic attack training is proposed for the EWR. Third, the newer EA-18G Growler jets are much noisier than the older EA-9 Prowler jets. Fourth, the number of flights has increased significantly, and will increase dramatically more. Fifth, the Navy is now designating a large portion of the airspace over Olympic National Park and private lands in western Clallam, Jefferson, and Grays Harbor Counties as an Electronic Warfare Range, thereby tarnishing the image of Olympic National Park and severely impacting the value of the private property.
A Frequently Asked Questions document on NASWI’s website states “the average number of flights in the Olympic Military Operations Area [the proposed EWR] is 1,250 annually.” That a dramatic increase over this, perhaps more than twelve times, will occur can be gleamed from the following.
Table 2.8-1 of the 2014 Northwest Training and Testing EIS says that over 5,000 Electronic Warfare Operations “events” will occur each year in the EIS study area – what it calls the Offshore Area (which confusingly is defined to include the onshore MOAs) and the Inland Waters. Although the EIS does not specify just where those events will be, and does not address the environmental impacts of those events in the EWR, one can assume that, without better guidance from the Navy, most of the “Electronic Warfare Operations” events will occur in the Electronic Warfare Range.
Just what an “event” constitutes is not stated. With EA-18G Growler jets operating in groups of threes, 5,000 events would involve at least 15,000 flights, perhaps more. The EIS says a “Civilian Port Defense exercise”, “although listed as only one activity . . . could last several days, with helicopter flights occurring every day.” With this analogy so plainly stated, could one Electronic Warfare Operations “event” last several days, with numerous jet flights occurring every day? The Navy has a lot of explaining to do here.
The Navy uses similar indefinite, ambiguous, and confusing language throughout every environmental document that relates to the Navy’s plans. Almost all of those at the Town Hall Meeting thought they deserved better. They also thought the Navy should do a complete, understandable, EIS. That is simply what Ms. Goldie and Ms. Parker were asking Congressman Kilmer to request of the Navy.
An Unasked Question
I had prepared one question that was not asked because so much time was taken up by Congressman Kilmer voicing his opinions, rather than hearing his constituents’ opinions. It read:
Congressman Kilmer: In 1909 President Theodore Roosevelt issued the Mount Olympic National Monument Proclamation. In doing so President Roosevelt said: [The Olympic] National Monument hereby established shall be the dominant reservation [over the Olympic National Forest] and any use of the land which interferes with its preservation or protection as a National Monument is hereby forbidden. Warning is hereby given to all unauthorized persons not to appropriate, injure, remove, or destroy any feature of this National Monument. Congressman Kilmer, we need you to step up to the plate and be as great a person as was President Roosevelt. Please tell the Navy to get its jets out of sound range of Olympic National Park and not to appropriate, injure or destroy this treasure!
That in a nutshell was what almost all of those in attendance would have liked Congressman Kilmer to tell the Navy. Many of them, like me, believe that Congressman Kilmer has the ability to so step up to the plate. We hope he does.