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Tranings Help Pilots practice finding and jamming enemy signals

Tranings Help Pilots practice finding and jamming enemy signals

  • 2014-11-27
 

The Navy’s plan to play high-tech war games in Olympic National Forest has sparked much more protest than government officials expected.

In response to a flood of negative comments and at least one emotionally-charged public meeting, the Forest Service has extended the time the public may comment on Naval Air Station Whidbey Island’s proposal to conduct electronic warfare training from several locations on Olympic’s west side. Initially closed at the end of October, the public comment period will now end Nov. 28.

“There is no doubt in my mind that this will have an enormous impact on the quality of life here … for both the people and the wildlife,” wrote Pacific Beach resident Merch DeGrasse in one of the 2,000 comments the Forest Service has received over the last five weeks.

Commenters object to noise and air pollution from frequent jet flyovers and the potential health impacts from electromagnetic beams the Navy plans to broadcast from 17 locations, most of which would be in the national forest.

The Navy is stressing that the emitters would produce radiation similar to many commonly-accepted sources, including radio and cellphone towers and power lines.

The emitters, the Navy said in a statement, “pose no threat to people or animals.” They would be harmful only if a person or animal “put themselves in the direct path of the signal, above the emitter, and within 100 feet of the emitter beam for an extended period of time.”

Two of the emitters would be stationary — one at a Pacific Beach naval station annex and the other on Octopus Mountain south of Forks.

The Navy has identified 15 sites where it would send truck-mounted mobile emitters into forested areas from Forks to the Quinault Indian Reservation. The trucks, which resemble television news vehicles, would be surrounded by caution tape and signs warning of a “radiation hazard.”

The trainings will help pilots practice finding, identifying and jamming enemy signals.

“It’s not a simple skill,” a Navy staffer told a crowd of about 100 people during a meeting in Forks last month. “(It) requires constant training to be proficient in a real combat environment.”

Olympic Peninsula residents jeered Navy and Forest Service representatives at an equally well-attended meeting in Port Angeles this week.

The Olympic Forest Coalition contests the Navy’s assertion that the trainings will have no impact on the peninsula’s threatened species.

“This activity does not belong in the Olympic National Forest,” OFC president Connie Gallant said, noting that Olympic is a key nesting site for the marbled murrelet, a small seabird whose populations have declined sharply over the last decade.

Leaders from a Grays Harbor fire district worry that the emitters will hamper 911 call equipment.

Outdoor recreation would be impacted by both aircraft noise and the closure of national forest roads and trails during training, said David Graves, a National Parks Conservation Association program manager.

“Many visitors come to Olympic National Park to find opportunities for solitude,” he wrote. “Increased overflights … would significantly impact these opportunities.”

The Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics disputes the Navy’s plan on legal grounds, arguing that Congress has never authorized military training as a permissible use. Allowable activities in Olympic include logging, conservation of water sources and outdoor recreation, according to the group.

The Forest Service is leaning toward approving the Navy’s plan. In a draft decision, Pacific District Ranger Dean Millett determined the trainings would have “no significant impact.”

“The project will not have a significant effect on public health or safety,” or the area’s “unique characteristics,” he wrote in his decision.(from STARS STRIPES)

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