By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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The Navy has maintained radio silence on two Port of Port Angeles proposals to provide moorage for submarine escort and blocking vessels that are far less expensive than the estimated $15 million project the Navy is considering, according to Port Commissioner Colleen McAleer.
The Navy has already begun a National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, review of the project at Coast Guard Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles.
Asked whether the Navy has reached out to the port to use existing port facilities for the project, Navy spokeswoman Leslie Yuenger said Friday in an email: “An analysis of socioeconomics will be included as part of the NEPA process.”
The Navy requested but never responded to a 2011 proposal that offered docking facilities that already exist at the port's Terminal 7, McAleer said Friday.
Submarine escort and blocking vessels already dock at port facilities at Terminal 1 under a contract the port has with Hornbeck Offshore of Covington, La.
Under the 2011 proposal, the port offered annual leases of $1.15 million for three years, $900,000 for five years and $600,000 for 10 years at Terminal 7, which needs improvements.
McAleer said Terminal 1 now is available at a lesser lease rate than Terminal 7 was and does not need the improvements necessary for Terminal 7.
But the Navy has not responded to that idea either, she said.
The port's plan serves the needs of both Hornbeck and the Navy, McAleer said.
The contract with Hornbeck alone has reaped the port $447,164 in dockage fees between 2007 and 2013, Terminal Manager Mike Nimmo said.
Navy spokesman Tom Danaher told Peninsula Daily News on Feb. 16 that the Coast Guard station already provides the required security for the vessels that would be docked there.
The project would include an 8,300-square-foot building with sleeping quarters.
The Hornbeck vessels, which have armed security, dock at Terminal 1, which has controlled, gated access, and at Terminal 7, which does not.
The Ediz Hook project would require construction of a 200-foot L-shaped dock that would be built from an unused barge landing.
“We would not need to build anything other than an upland facility [for sleeping quarters] for them,” McAleer said.
“We do not need to build it from scratch.
“Terminal 1 has most of their security issues handled.
“We would have to perhaps modify our security levels, but it can be done quite feasibly.”
— Paul Gottlieb, Peninsula Daily News
The Seattle-based company, which has its own dock fewer than 100 yards from where the Navy pier would be built, said the new dock could lead to an exit from its home of seven decades.
“We don't want to move,” company president Capt. Jonathan Ward said last week.
“It would be a horrific expense, and we are not aware of any alternative locations,” Ward added.
“So we are hoping all the impacts are things that we can work with and negotiate and live with, and if they are not, then we'll have to develop Plan B, which would be trying to find an alternative site,” he added.
Master mariners who are partners in the company and stay at the pilot station board all non-exempt vessels — from yachts to tankers to container ships — and navigate them through the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the American side of the international border to and from Puget Sound.
Exemptions are based on tonnage and length for smaller pleasure vessels.
The company's dock and 14-room training and sleeping facility is just outside the entrance of Coast Guard Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles at the tip of Ediz Hook.
Just inside the entrance, in an estimated $15 million project, the Navy has proposed building a 200-foot dock for Coast Guard escort vessels and Navy submarine-blocking vessels, and an 8,300-square-foot building for sleeping quarters.
Company officials are worried that noise from construction and subsequent dock operations could disturb pilots who must sleep at various times both day and night.
“It could be that we have to move out during the construction phase,” Ward said.
That could mean incurring the expense of temporarily renting hotel rooms for the pilots, he said.
He said Navy officials have told him noise levels from dock operations will fall within acceptable Occupational Health and Safety Administration parameters and that whatever noise the military vessels will make will be less than that from the base's helicopters.
The company also is concerned about a security zone for military vessels that could impinge on company operations, Ward said.
“When you have multiple vessels maneuvering in close proximity, obviously there are safety concerns,” he said.
“To what extent, we can't define, but it would impact our operations.”
Navy officials have said they can waive the security zone, Ward said.
“They promised they will work with us,” he said.
“We'll just have to wait and see.”
Navy officials have said the facility would be a necessary stopover point for fatigued crews of vessels that accompany submarines headed to and from Bangor Naval Base.
Company officials understand the Navy's logistical need for the facility, Ward said.
“But that does not mean we don't have concerns over how it is going to affect us.”
The pilots were based in Port Townsend in the 1930s, but safety and security concerns forced the move farther west to Port Angeles during World War II, Ward said.
The company's 10 employees, who live in Port Angeles, do maintenance on the facility and crew two 70-foot pilot vessels.
The company does extensive business with Platypus Marine and buys fuel from the Port of Port Angeles at the port's Boat Haven.
Area divers are upset that the project would compromise an artificial reef under the proposed dock site.
“Everyone is concerned,” Port Angeles dive instructor Bill Roberds said last week.
The Washington Scuba Alliance “said to let them know what they can do to help,” he added.
Similar concerns, along with potential damage to eelgrass beds, were raised when representatives of the Lower Elwha Klallam, Jamestown S'Klallam and Port Gamble S'Klallam tribes met with Navy officials earlier this year as part of a National Environmental Policy Act review of the project.
In prepared responses to questions regarding the status of the project and concerns expressed by Puget Sound Pilots, Navy spokeswoman Leslie Yuenger said Friday that the Navy has discussed the project with Puget Sound Pilots but did not elaborate.
She said the Navy continues to look at other potential sites and that members of the public such as divers have not been contacted.
“The extent of public comment will be decided during the course of the NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] process,” she said.
The Peninsula Daily News requested an interview with a Navy official connected with the project.
“The Navy is unable to support your request for an interview at this time,” Yuenger said.
Ward said Puget Sound Pilots has met three times with Navy officials about the project, the first at the end of 2012 and most recently earlier this year.
Ward said one of those meetings was arranged with help from U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, a Port Angeles native whose 6th Congressional District includes Clallam and Jefferson counties.
Kilmer could not be reached for comment Friday about the project.
He is the featured speaker at the April 21 Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce noon luncheon at the Red Lion Hotel.
Ward was told by officials at one of those meetings that an option to build the dock on the eastern point of the Hook was determined not to be environmentally feasible, Ward said.
“Our latest meeting made it clear to us that the train is moving down the track and this new facility will be built at the western-site location,” he said.
“What we heard at that meeting was the funding is in process and it appears to be fairly secure,” Ward said, adding that military officials said construction is planned for the third or fourth quarter of 2015.
Navy spokesman Tom Danaher said in an earlier interview that the project has not been funded, would be built in 2017 or 2018 and that “it may not happen.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.