Sunday, June 7, 2015

Navy offers new option for proposed Port Angeles submarine escort pier

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Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Paul Gotlieb/Peninsula Daily News
7 June 2015
PORT ANGELES — The Navy has announced the location of a fourth alternative site for a proposed pier at Ediz Hook, where a plethora of activity already is taking place.
The new location was offered to mollify concerns expressed by the Puget Sound Pilots and others about the $16.7 million proposal, which would provide a dock for up to seven Navy submarine escort vessels.
But the route of the vessels as they proceed to the newest-option pier also places them within 100 feet of Seattle-based Icicle Seafoods Inc.’s Atlantic-salmon fish farm.
All four proposals site the dock at U.S. Coast Guard Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles at the tip of the Hook and on the harbor side of Port Angeles Harbor.
The fourth-alternative pier would be built 2,000 feet east of the Puget Sound Pilots’ station just outside the field office entrance and 1,600 feet from the underwater riprap reef known as “the rock pile,” a popular scuba-diving attraction.
The pier, part of the Navy’s submarine Transit Protection System, is being jointly planned by the Navy and Coast Guard, 13th District Coast Guard spokesman Dana Warr said last week.
The escort vessels would accompany ballistic missile submarines based at Naval Base Kitsap Bangor that traverse the Strait of Juan de Fuca for exercises in the Pacific Ocean.
The dock and support facilities, such as new sleeping quarters, would provide a rest-stop for crews.
The Navy was planning to release the new location later this fall as part of the project’s environmental assessment.
But the agency divulged the new site earlier last week after Navy officials discussed the location with local diving enthusiasts and following repeated inquiries from the Peninsula Daily News.
Details of the new proposal will be included in an environmental assessment on the project that will be released this fall and followed by a public comment period, Navy spokeswoman Liane Nakahara said earlier last week.
“The draft environmental assessment will evaluate direct, indirect, and cumulative effects of the proposed action and alternatives on the fish pens,” she said in an email.
Alan Cook, Icicle Seafoods’ vice president for aquaculture, who has discussed the project with Navy officials, noted the that the longest of the seven escort vessels would be 250 long.
“In that fourth option, those vessels will be pivoting over the top of our mooring lines,” he said.  
“We have concerns about noise and pollution during construction and during operations.”
Cook said the fish farm, located just west of the Pilots’ station, provides living-wage jobs for 10 families and an annual payroll, including health care benefits, of more than $400,000.
Nakahara said in an email that the newest alternative stays within the existing $16.7 million budget and abides by the planned summer 2016 build date.
It is being developed based on public comments the Navy has received on the dock plan, according to the statement.
The most controversial option — Alternative 1, the western site — sits over the artificial reef and near an eelgrass bed, features that troubled Lower Elwha Klallam tribal officials.
Alternative 2, the eastern site, would be a new dock built east of the Coast Guard’s T-pier and closest to the tip of the Hook.
Alternative 3 would employ the T-pier, which the Navy would extend with a trestle and expansion span.
Alternatives 2 and 3 would be stabilized with 200-foot wave-attenuation barriers and 40 piles each.
The Puget Sound Pilots had objected that the westernmost alternative would disrupt operations.
“We are taking into consideration the comments that the Puget Sound Pilots have submitted,” Nakahara said in a March 31 email to Pilots President David Grobschmit obtained by the PDN.
“Based on comments we received, we are assessing the feasibility of either altering the existing alternatives or possibly adding a new one.”
Grobschmit would not comment last week on Alternative 4 without more details.
Navy officials met Monday with Lower Elwha natural resources office staff members on Ediz Hook, tribal Natural Resources Director Doug Morrill said Tuesday, adding that he did not take part in the meeting.
The Navy must consult with the Lower Elwha because the pier would be within the tribe’s usual and accustomed fishing grounds.
“The general observation from [the staff members] is that it seems to deal with a lot of the issues, especially the rock pile,” Morrill said.
“I suspect that since the pier is in deeper water, it probably won’t have as much impact on the eelgrass.”
Pink and chum salmon also skirt the Hook’s nearshore.
“We presume it is a migration area,” Morrill added.
“That’s why the eelgrass is so important.”
Howard Cunningham, owner of Strait Scuba in Port Angeles, said Tuesday he’s “more comfortable” with the newest alternative.
Cunningham, who runs scuba charters to the reef, said it’s the only underwater site in Port Angeles Harbor where divers can see more than a few fish or even a single octopus.
“Most of the harbor is an absolute dead zone,” Cunningham said.
“The only stronghold we’ve got left is right on that reef.”
Cunningham said divers had shoreline access to the reef from a public boat ramp just outside the Coast Guard station’s gate entrance until 9/11.
It’s now considered a security risk to swim so close to the Puget Sound Pilots station.
The Navy’s Transit Protection System for in-transit ballistic-missile submarines was established after the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole was bombed Oct. 12, 2000, while being refueled in the Yemeni port of Aden.

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