Letter to the Forest Service regarding the Navy Training Electronic Warfare Environmental Assessement


UPDATED FOR DECEMBER 1, 2016. Originally posted in 2014

Quick overview: Why is this an issue?

The DOD has stated they want permission from the Forest Service  to do this training.

To be clear, this is from the Forest Service EA on behalf of the Navy:

The Navy wants to run Electronic Warfare Training runs on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula, including over habitat for endangered Spotted Owls, towns such as Forks, areas very close to the Hoh River campgrounds, and generally all over the Peninsula’s west side.

From the Navy’s own documents:

-11.152 events per day
-2900 events per year. Current number in the Olympic MOA is 1200.
-Run up to 12 hours a day
-In use 45 minutes of each hour
-The equipment will be in use up to 260 days a year

The Navy claims that they will fly at a height no lower than 6000 feet. However, numerous eye witnesses from both inside the Olympic National Park and outside report that the Navy routinely flies much lower than that. Sometimes barely above tree top level.

The Navy’s own figures state that a jet flying at 1000 ft above ground level creates 113 decibels, which is far above the threshold for hearing damage.
So, 113 @ 1000 for one aircraft = 123 for two, and 128 for three. In other words, permanent damage instantly. (Twice as loud for two and an additional 50% louder for three.)
There are no answers, only questions at this point:

To whom it may concern:

I am writing to express my concern with substantive issues of  the Environmental Assessment being carried out by the Forest Service on behalf of the Navy’s Pacific NW Electronic Warfare Range.

There are number of issues that I am raising, starting with the 1988 DOD/Agriculture MOA:

DOD Department of Agriculture Master Agreement 1988 

  • DOD, Department of Agriculture (FS) Master Agreement on “Use of National Forest Service Lands For Military Activity” (1988)
    • As stated in this 1988 document: “Training activities on National Forest Service  Lands will be authorized when compatible with other uses and in conformity with applicable forest plan(s), provided that the Department of Defense determines and substantiates that lands under it’s administration are unsuitable or unusable.” 

I see nothing in the EA or the EIS that substantiates that the current lands in Eastern Washington or Idaho are unsuitable or unusable. In fact , It is clear on page 2-8 of the EA that Roosevelt and Okanagan are still possible to use. I see a case  made that it is too far for local pilots. But this is neither an unsuitable or unusable  argument as they are being used for this purpose now. Could the lands be used if necessary? The answer appears yes, but the Navy would prefer to do it in the Western Olympic Peninsula. That does not seem to meet the criteria as outlined in that foundational document between the DOD and the FS.

  • The 1988 agreement, noted above goes on to say that:
    • “This agreement does not apply to the airspace over National Forest System Lands unless directly associated with the land based training.”

Questions of overlooking the issue of aircraft

There is an implied issue that is not addressed in the current EA that I am commenting on, and seems critical to the EA.  IF there will be active flyovers of public land (USFS, ONF, WSDNR), and IF there will be active electronic engagement with mobile emitters then it seems that  potential adverse environmental impacts MUST be addressed in the EA. Any reasonable person would conclude that they are tightly coupled, and that one relies on the other, as they do in fact. Any attempt to suggest that these aerial activities are NOT a part of this Environmental Analysis and have been or are going to be addressed in a separate EIS are inexcusable considering potential adverse impacts to the human and natural environment.

Again, the airspace requirements for this EA are distinctly directly associated with the land based training, so while it is not addressed in the current EA, it is required by the 1988 Master Agreement to be considered in the EA and likely an EIS that would take into consideration both issues. That the Forest Service has not bound the airspace issues with the land based issues seems to be a significant oversight on behalf of the FS reviewer. Previous EISA entries from the DOD/Navy did not address this specific use of the airspace, which may significantly alter the altitude and noise impact to both the National Forest and the National Park. So the question I ask is “Why is it not bound to this EA?”

Also, the flight paths of these jets flying unmuffled at 1200 feet are not even shown on diagrams. What population areas, businesses and homes are going to be affected by these flights?

  • Section B of the 1988 Master Agreement states:
    • Military Training activities on Forest Service lands are actions that require the analysis of environmental impact in conformance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other statutory and regulatory requirements. The Department of Defense and the Department of Agriculture will cooperate to accomplish the appropriate NEPA compliance.

Questions of Noise

A question of whether the activities of the DOD are compatible with  other uses and conform with applicable forest management plans can be questioned, since hiking, fishing, camping and other human activities are expected to take place both on FS land and the adjacent Olympic National Park (ONP). The noise of the jets participating in the testing and training of the pilots, and directly associated with the land based training, flying at heights of 1200 feet, will be at decibel levels that are known to damage human hearing (greater than 80 decibels for example).

These planes, which are required to make deployment of the electronic gear being requested necessary, will be heard inside the Olympic National Park, in such locations as the Hoh River campground, and other campsites close to the deployed gear, according to the maps provided by the FS and Navy.

In earlier court cases, the National Park Service has found that snow plane noise (from planes landing in the snow in areas like Alaska) violated park standards. Has the Park Service weighed in on whether the noise of the unmuffled jets flying training sorties at 1200 feet will meet noise criteria in the areas of the National Park over which the jets will fly? And what about the noise levels generated adjacent to the Park? This has been successfully argued in court to be a violation of the Wilderness Act.

Questions of Fire 

There is no mention of possible fire, caused by either the jets themselves or the equipment. If a jet crashes, especially if it happens in late summer, what measures do the FS and the Navy expect to take to fight the subsequent fire?  This seems to be an oversight in the EA.

Quantities of training 

The DOD has stated they plan to do this training:

  • 11.152 events per day 
  • 2900 events per years. Current number in the Olympic MOA is 1200.
  • Run up to 12 hours a day
  • In use 45 minutes of each hour
  • The equipment will be in use up to 260 days a year
  • The Navy’s own figures state that a jet flying at 1000 ft above ground level creates 113 decibels, which is far above the threshold for hearing damage.
    • So, 113 @ 1000 for one aircraft = 123 for two, and 128 for three. In other words, permanent damage instantly. (Twice as loud for two and an additional 50% louder for three.)  

This cannot be construed to be “no harm” as exposing human and animal hearing to the directly associated unmuffled air training that is done in conjunction with the required land based equipment could cause human hearing impairment. There has been no Environmental Impact Statement done on the joint use of the two distinctly directly associated activities. I request that one be done.

A reasonable person who would live, work or recreate near such activity would not consider adding 260 days and 12 hours a day of unmuffled jet noise associated with this activity, along with the coming and goings of trucks at all hours of the day and night, to be “no significant impact”. So what was the criteria in establishing that ruling in the FONSI?

Question Of Conversion Of And Taking Of Private & Public Property 

An issue not addressed is the implied conversion of private property under the flight paths of these jets, in the vicinity of the transmitters. (Flight paths are not even considered in the EA) Citizens are being told that they will be living under a war training zone, that unmuffled jets may be going over their homes and businesses at 1200 feet as much as 12 hours a day and up to 45 minutes in those hours. Would they consider this an impact on their businesses and personal lives?

This seems to be a “taking” of the private property use, without properly addressing the issue of whether there is going to be a loss of value or reimbursement  to the homeowner, business person or property owner.  This kind of issue has been dealt with in many locales when flight paths in and out of airports brought jet traffic over homes. These homes often are purchased and destroyed. Seatac has two such locations, north and south of the runways.   When the Navy has created training ranges such as Yakima Firing Range, there was a condemning or purchase of the land there. This issue has not been raised in either the EIS nor the EA.

Loss of Wilderness Soundscape

The loss of wilderness soundscape over the ONP is also, per my comments above, a possible violation of the Wilderness Act. It could also be seen as a violation of NEPA because it appears there has been no adequate consultation with the Park Service prior to the EA nor documented on this issue in the EA.

Use of DNR Lands

It also appears that there are use issues with DNR lands in that vicinity, has that been documented somewhere other than this EA?

Loss of tourist trade

There are unknown losses that may occur due to tourist activities that may not happen due to the understanding by recreation users and others that low flying unmuffled jets are in the area. That is not addressed at all in the EA, nor the Navy’s EIS for the training areas. Are there similar locations in the Continental US that could be looked at for possible loss of incomes and tourist trade?

Issues with the Finding Of No Significance (FONSI) 

In the comments in the FONSI there is mention of having referred to the FS NW Forest Plan, but no mention of which sections of the FS NW Forest Plan the writer is referring to. Which ones is he referring to?

The FONSI appears to have been arrived at with no public input and insufficient scientific data, thus violating NEPA.

In the comments section of the FONSI there is no mention of jet aircraft in consideration of  the actions proposed on page EA-2.  However, the jet aircraft are required for this training. They are not a separate entity, but intrinsically part of the whole.  A reasonable person would assume that would be taking into consideration in this EA.

I request that the FS rewrite the EA to take into account the jet aircraft in use specifically for this training be done.The EIS that was originally done by the Navy regarding airspace did not consider or discuss this use, but was specifically calling out issues related to training at sea.

In the comments section of the FONSI the reviewer only considers the Navy’s needs in the alternatives, and not whether citizens who live and use the National Forests of the affected areas on the Olympic Peninsula would request an alternative.

In the comments section of the FONSI the reviewer states that there will be no effects on the human environment. Most reasonable people living, working or recreating on these lands would consider 200 training exercises a year requiring jets flying low enough to produce sound above the range of damage to human hearing to be a negative effect of any such activity.

IN CONCLUSION:

Given all these issues, I respectively suggest that the EA is inadequate in addressing the possible impacts to public health and safety, biological resources, Noise, Air Quality, and Visual Resources, along with the lack of proof that the use of Forest Service Lands by the Navy has not been adequately shown to adhere to the 1988 Master Agreement (referenced above), and wish to see it withdrawn and or rejected.

4 Responses

  1. In addition, I defy you to not have your thoughts or attention interrupted when a military jet passes a thousand feet over your world.

  2. There is ample evidence that unusual noise intrusion into wilderness environments disrupt the whole ecosystem for extended time. Feeding and forage is interrupted. Mating calls interrupted, sleep patterns disrupted, predator/pray relations fail. Even down to the call of insects, amphibians and aquatic life. The WHOLE!
    http://www.amazon.com/The-Great-Animal-Orchestra-Finding/dp/031608686X

  3. Not to squeeze them into seasons but consider avoiding the periods of the year that the fauna are most vulnerable, tourists are most frequent. Also this is the Navy – aside from the already existing routes and stations east of the mountains I wonder if they can still create a realistic training scenario at sea – throttle back out the Straits just under commercial flight altitudes and do their business offshore – Great letter – Joel

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