TACOMA – A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Wednesday that claimed the Navy didn’t properly inform the public about the dangers of a second explosives wharf being built at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor. “The Navy met the requirements of NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act) and its implementing regulations,” U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton concluded.
Poulsbo-based anti-nuclear group Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action contended in a case filed in June 2012 that the $715 million project began without an adequate study of environmental impacts. The main concern was increased explosion risks from building the second wharf close to the first one. It sought to halt construction until the Navy supplemented the environmental impact statement with more information about safety impacts.
The Navy is building the wharf, it says, because the existing 30-year-old wharf can’t keep up with loading and unloading ballistic missiles on eight Bangor-based Trident submarines. Maintenance on the old structure restricts access to 185 days. Four hundred are needed, it says.
Glen Milner, a plaintiff in the suit, said the wharves will only be about 300 feet apart, not the 2,789 feet he says are required by Department of Defense Explosives Safety Board and Navy regulations. The Navy withheld documents containing explosives safety arcs for the existing and proposed wharves as “unclassified controlled nuclear information.”
The risks are from missile fuel, not nuclear material. The Navy stated “no new or increased quantity of explosives would be introduced” as a result of the project and it “would not change the amounts or manner in which explosive materials are handled.”
Ground Zero said a second wharf would double the amount of explosives in Hood Canal and likely double the amount of missile handling by the Navy.
The judge agreed with the Navy that the analysis of the risk of explosions is protected from disclosure by law and therefore the Navy isn’t required to disclose it in a public NEPA document. The information that can be disclosed, Leighton said, establishes that the chance of an explosion is below the established risk threshold of 1 in 1 million.
The records that were withheld, if disclosed, could reasonably be expected to significantly and adversely affect national security, he said, and they’re not essential to determining the environmental consequences of building the second wharf.
The agency in charge of explosive safety, the Department of Defense Explosives Safety Board, refused to grant a permit, but the Navy got a secretarial certification that allowed it to build if it accepted responsibility for accidents. That information should have been in the EIS and would have alerted the public to the dangers, Ground Zero said. While the Navy claims there’s no increase in danger, it’s spending tens of millions of dollars removing or fortifying nearby buildings.
“The Navy is aware of the recent District Court ruling regarding the explosives handling wharf at Naval Base Kitsap,” said spokeswoman Leslie Yuenger. “We cannot comment on the decision.”