Forest Service favors Navy permits for warfare rangeDraft decision expected today

PORT ANGELES — The National Forest Service intends to grant a five-year special use permit that would allow Navy jet pilots to engage in electromagnetic warfare training conducted in conjunction with mobile transmitters deployed in Olympic National Forest, according to an announcement expected today.

Dean Millett, Pacific District ranger, told the Peninsula Daily News on Monday that the Forest Service will announce a draft decision notice that no significant environmental impact will result from the Navy’s proposed $11.5 million Pacific Northwest Electronic Warfare Range.

Millett said today’s announcement, made official in legal notices in today’s Peninsula Daily News (Page B9) and the Daily World in Aberdeen, will begin a 45-day objection period.

Only previous commenters can object

Objections to the draft decision will be accepted only from people who have already commented during previous designated comment periods in 2014 that are specified in the legal notice.

Millett said Olympic National Forest Supervisor Reta Laford will make the final decision on the permit.

The project would entail deploying three camper-sized vehicles containing mobile electromagnetic transmitters on 11 Forest Service roads in the western ring of Olympic National Forest near the Quinault reservation.

The Forest Service based its draft decision on more than 3,000 public comments on the proposal and on the Navy’s final environmental assessment, published in September 2014.

The mobile transmitter vehicles would interact with Navy jets in real-time targeting exercises to detect the kinds of electromagnetic signatures that would be emitted by enemy installations.

Pilots now conduct only in-cockpit training for such exercises.

The project would “sustain and enhance” the current level of electronic warfare training over the Navy’s existing Northwest Training Range Complex, according to the environmental assessment.

Forest Service officials have said comments about the plan have been overwhelmingly against it.

Count Bob Lynette of Sequim, a former board member of the North Olympic Group of the Sierra Club, as an opponent, he said Monday.

Lynette is disappointed by the direction the Forest Service is taking on the project and hopes the Sierra Club opposes it.

The former technical representative for General Electric worked on Air Force and Navy fighter aircraft.

“Having worked on radar systems in my career, I know that a radar system pointed down can do substantial harm if it’s close enough and strong enough,” he said.

“I’m not sure that’s been looked at decently at all.”

He also noted that Olympic National Park is bordered by Olympic National Forest, over which the Navy flight already do and would take place.

The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a designation he said conflicts with the Electronic Warfare Range proposal.

“It’s crazy to start doing that when they have other options,” he said.

Establishment of the range would supplement the training activities of Whidbey Naval Air Station jet activity by accommodating growth in future training requirements and make it easier for pilots to achieve their training on local ranges, according to the environmental assessment.

The training area extends from Olympic National Park west to the coast and the Strait of Juan de Fuca south to Grays Harbor County.

Most of the mobile-transmitter sites would be north and southeast of the Quinault reservation and north of Moclips on the coast.

The Navy has said flights over Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest would increase up to 10 percent but that noise levels generated during the exercises would not harm wildlife.

The environmental assessment also determined that there would be no significant impact on public health and safety, biological resources, air quality and visual resources.

“Based on the analysis, cumulative impacts within the [Electronic Warfare] Range Study Area would not be significant,” the assessment concluded.

The Navy also wants to install an emitter at a fixed site at Naval Station Everett Annex Pacific Beach and at Octopus Mountain.

More information about the project is available at www.tinyurl.com/PDN-Electrowarfare.

The Navy also proposed deploying mobile transmitters on three state Department of Natural Resources roads.

The Navy had not submitted applicaitons for permits on DNR land, spokesman Bob Redling said Monday.

In June 2015, then-state Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark said the proposal needed more study given its potential impact on the threatened marbled murrelet and said he had received hundreds of comments against the plan.

The Navy has said the jets involved in the exercises would fly as low as 6,000 feet.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.