Kilmer discusses jet warfare range at town hall meeting

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer

EDITOR’S NOTE: This has been corrected to show that Rep. Derek Kilmer has not taken a position on the Navy’s electronic warfare range project.

PORT ANGELES — U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer capped his visit to the North Olympic Peninsula this week by outlining the Navy’s reasoning for the impending electronic warfare range project over Olympic National Forest during a town hall meeting.

He spoke for 90 minutes Tuesday night at Peninsula College’s Little Theater in Port Angeles before about 200 people.

Kilmer ended his presentation by saying that the Navy said that the establishment of the jet warfare range targeting area was vital for the nation’s security and the safety of the Growler jet pilots who will engage in the training exercises.

Kilmer said approval is not sought from specific members of Congress on such projects but emphasized he worked to extend the public comment period and contended the Navy’s roll-out of the plan and “public outreach” on it was flawed.

The Navy received about 3,500 comments on the proposal, the vast majority of which were negative.

Kilmer was responding to a woman who asked Kilmer what “mounting threat” justified the military’s increased presence on the Peninsula.

Kilmer said that training is predominantly for pilots sent to the Middle East, to fight primarily against ISIS.

“They are trying to train them outside harm’s way before they send them into harm’s way,” said Kilmer, a Gig Harbor Democrat whose 6th Congressional District includes Clallam and Jefferson counties.

“Most of the Growlers are at Whidbey Island. That’s part of the reason they made the decision they made.”

Kilmer did not say if he supported this particular training. He said that he wanted to ensure the Navy acted as “good neighbors.

The Navy “has had the MOA [military operations area] over the Peninsula for a few decades. Even though they’ve been our neighbors for a long time, it’s important that they be good neighbors,” Kilmer said.

Kilmer’s appearance on the Peninsula this week during Congress’s summer recess included a town hall meeting Sunday in Chimacum and a visit earlier Tuesday to the Composite Recycling Technology Center in Port Angeles.

While he responded to a dozen questions on mostly national and international issues, Kilmer also said he has met with the U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on a dispute between the city of Port Angeles and federal officials related to the completed removal of the Elwha River dams.

The National Park Service wants to hand over the Elwha River surface water intake and treatment facilities to the city, but city officials say adequate repairs must be conducted and maintenance funds provided before the transfer takes place.

Kilmer said he “walked” the Interior secretary through the issue “to make sure if and when the Park Service hands them over, that they work, that they work for the people and the ratepayers.”

To make that a reality Kilmer, a member of the House Committee on Appropriations, said he inserted report language into a $31.4 billion 2018 House appropriations bill for the Departments of Interior, Environment and related agencies that has been passed out of committee.

The bill requires the Park Service to “work with the city to develop a report outlining how the service has met or intends to meet its obligations under [the 1992 Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act] prior to initiating any transfer of the [Elwha Water Facilities].”

The section in the 1992 Act that Kilmer cited says the Interior secretary must implement “protection of the existing quality and availability of water from the Elwha River for municipal and industrial uses from possible adverse impacts of dam removal.”

The report must include “(1) a plan to assist the city in securing all necessary permits required for the city to operate the [Elwha Water Facilities]; and (2) whether the city believes capital improvements are required to reduce operating costs, and if so, the scope of the capital improvements.”

Public Works Director Craig Fulton is meeting with Park Service officials about the proposed transfer Friday, City Attorney Bill Bloor said Wednesday.

Bloor said the language Kilmer added is “helpful in the sense that there needs to be a plan certain to resolve all of this.”

As an appropriations committee member, Kilmer said he also has tried procuring funds to mitigate noise issues related to the Growler overflights.

The Forest Service signed a special-use permit July 31 allowing the Navy to deploy three mobile-emitter camper-size trucks on roads north and south of the Quinault reservation, which lies mostly in Grays Harbor County and within the western edge of Olympic National Forest, that will link up via electromagnetic signals with the radar-jamming aircraft.

The jets that will increase their existing flights over the Navy’s Olympic Military Operations Area by up to 10 percent, or one flight a day.

The trucks will park among 11 locations for from eight to 16 hours a day on weekdays.

Kilmer said approval is not sought from specific members of Congress on such projects but emphasized he worked to extend the public comment period and contended the Navy’s roll-out of the plan and “public outreach” on it was flawed.

The Navy is expected to receive the final permit from the Forest Service for the project “in the near future,” Mike Welding, Naval Air Station spokesman, said Wednesday in an email.

Welding said the third of the three trucks will be delivered “in the next couple of months.”

The Navy and Forest Service also must work out procedures for range operation and transmitter-truck-training completed.

“It is expected it will be about a month before all this is done and the trucks are able to support the training requirement,” Welding said.

Kilmer range of topics included a lengthy defense of the Affordable Care Act.

Many in the audience held placards urging a single-payer system, under which the government would cover basic health care costs for all residents.

Kilmer also said he supports a plan to create a military base realignment and closure commission whose recommendations he said would not likely have a negative effect on the Navy shipyard Bremerton, which is in his 6th Congressional District.

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