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Most speakers say explosives handling facility is a 'Cold War relic'

Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder testifies Tuesday evening on county support for a second missile handling wharf to be built at Naval Base Kitsap Bangor.   Bangor wharf expansion not local favorite  - Greg Skinner/Kitsap Navy News
Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder testifies Tuesday evening on county support for a second missile handling wharf to be built at Naval Base Kitsap Bangor. Bangor wharf expansion not local favorite
— image credit: Greg Skinner/Kitsap Navy News

By GREG SKINNER
Kitsap Navy News

POULSBO — The general consensus of those who spoke at Tuesday’s public meeting about a second explosives handling wharf at Naval Base Kitsap Bangor was that the project just isn’t necessary in the post-Cold War world.

Navy officials listened and took note of the comments at the meeting at North Kitsap High School. Naval Base Kitsap Bangor maintains one of the largest stockpiles of sea-launched nuclear weapons in the national magazine. A second explosives handling wharf would cost about $750 million, take four years to complete, and would have some negative environmental impact on Hood Canal in the vicinity of Bangor.

For decades, expanding the explosives handling capacity at Bangor has been on the Navy’s collective mind. In 2009, the Navy restarted the Environmental Impact Statement required before permits can be filed with state and federal agencies.

March saw the release of the draft EIS and the beginning of the 45-day public comment period, which ends on May 2. A final decision is expected by late fall and construction could begin in 2012.

The Navy says the eight Trident submarines and their complement of Trident II D-5 missiles require the equivalent of 400 days each year of maintenance and support. A second wharf would result in up to 730 days of available time.

The program looks to extend the D-5 missiles lifespan into the year 2042. “As (D-5 missiles) age, they require more and longer maintenance,” project engineer David Gibson said.

Gibson said not all the available days brought about by the expansion would be used in direct support of the missile maintenance schedule. About 200 operational days would be spent maintaining the wharf facility itself.

The Navy’s preferred choice includes a 150,000-square-foot large-pile wharf, a 34,000-square-foot warping wharf, six 30-foot-tall lighting structures, and cranes to be constructed 600 feet offshore in water up to 95 feet deep and connected to shore by an 81,000-square-foot trestle.

“It’s a large structure out there,” Gibson said.

Charles Schmidt of Bainbridge Island testified that the Cold War ended more than two decades ago and the country would do well to move on from nuclear weapons designed to deter the former Soviet Union.

“There are not that many Russian subs out there,” Schmidt said. “The threat is not there.”

Schmidt said the wharf project would probably cost more than $1 billion by the time it’s completed.

“Dealing with the reality of government projects, it’s tough to stop a project that is started,” Schmidt said.

Brian Watson of Bremerton said the Navy was acting like it was 1975 and the Cold War was still on. The Navy has done a fine job for a decade servicing the eight missile submarines based at Bangor with the single wharf, and the Defense Department said no new wharf was needed until the number of subs ported at Bangor reaches 10, he said.

“The need doesn’t add up,” Watson said. “It’s as if we anticipate more weapons.”

Retired submarine officer Tom Rogers of Poulsbo left the Navy shortly before the Cold War ended in 1991. The end of the mission to deter Soviet aggression and nuclear war was the highlight of his career. Still, Rogers asked the Navy to consider killing the project, which is one of the available options in the EIS. Rogers called the Trident program a “Cold War relic” that was expensive and barbaric.

“The continued use is an unmistakable sign that we are not ready to give up nuclear weapons,” he said.

Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder, D-Poulsbo, said the project was generally favored by county authorities for the jobs that would be created. He said that support would remain as long as the in-lieu fees program designed to mitigate environmental damage remained intact.

No responses were given at the hearing. Answers will be provided in the final EIS when finished.

Capt. Pete Dawson, commander of Naval Base Kitsap, and several civilians involved in the project listened to comments.

While doing nothing is an option, that’s unlikely. Congress has approved the $750 million for the construction of a second explosives handling wharf, and the D-5 missiles must be maintained.

The Suquamish Tribe has expressed concern that “industrialization” in Hood Canal’s sensitive marine environment and Suquamish’s fishing grounds will lead to habitat loss and diminished water quality.

“The tribe is concerned about the cumulative effects of this project when combined with past and future projects on or in the vicinity of the Bangor waterfront,” Tom Ostrom wrote for the Suquamish Tribe. “The Navy’s actions are resulting in an increasingly industrialized shoreline adjacent to the sensitive Hood Canal marine environment.”

The Navy’s draft for the preferred choices shows that habitat for endangered and non-endangered species will be affected if the project goes forward.

According to the Navy, the economic benefits of the project, regardless of alternative, will bring to the area about 100 temporary direct jobs during the construction and 394 indirect jobs associated with the nearly $1 billion in federal money expected to be spent in Kitsap County.

Long term, the new wharf and longer operations hours are expected to employ about 20 additional people.

The Navy will host more public hearings in Seattle and Chimacum and accept written comments until May 2 via U.S. Mail or the website, www.nbkeis.com/EHW.

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