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Judge won't stop construction of second wharf at Bangor

TACOMA — Construction of a second explosives handling wharf at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor can continue.

A U.S. District Court judge denied motions Friday from Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action and the Suquamish Tribe to halt the $715 million project until environmental effects are more fully explained and considered. Construction began Sept. 27.

The Navy didn't respond to questions about how work is progressing. The estimated completion date is October 2016.

The existing explosives handling wharf is used to move ballistic missiles on and off eight submarines based at Bangor. A combination of bigger, more complex missiles and a deteriorating, 30-year-old wharf makes a second one necessary, the Navy says.

"The Navy expects EHW-1's operational capacity to decline so much as to create an operational shortfall which represents a risk to the operability, reliability, safety and security of the Trident II system, and ultimately, to national security," Judge Ronald Leighton wrote in his decision.

Ground Zero and the Suquamish argued the Navy wrongly withheld certain information, failed to consider a wide enough range of alternatives, didn't fully discuss mitigating harm to protected species and its environmental analysis masked harm to salmon. The tribe further claimed the proposed wharf abrogates its fishing rights.

Leighton concluded that their interests "are not trivial, yet they have not met the legal standards necessary for this Court to issue a preliminary injunction."

The judge said Suquamish fishing rights aren't an issue because no tribe has access to the waters near the base and the Suquamish only have secondary rights south of the Hood Canal bridge. The Skokomish Tribe must invite the Suquamish to fish, and haven't done so.

The Navy withheld five documents during the environmental process that Ground Zero claimed were crucial to the public — Appendices A, B and C to the environmental impact statement, facility design criteria and a business case analysis. The appendices were considered "unclassified controlled nuclear information" and contained the need for another wharf, alternatives the Navy considered but didn't carry forward for more analysis, and explosives safety arcs for both wharves. The business case analysis was "classified" and specified design necessities of the proposed wharf, and the business case analysis gave the Navy's assessment of future Trident program needs.

Leighton said the material was correctly designated and withheld.

"The Navy properly reasoned that disclosing the details of the maintenance and handling of nuclear missiles could reasonably be expected to have a significant adverse affect on the common defense," he wrote. " … The Court sees no point in disclosing the details of weapons handling so that Plaintiffs may second guess the number of days the Navy requires use of an explosive-handling wharf. NEPA does not allow such nitpicking."

Leighton said he reviewed the documents in private "and each contains information that, if disclosed, could reasonably be expected to significantly and adversely affect national security."

Ground Zero claimed the Navy used the environmental process to justify a decision it had already made. The military construction budget announced Feb. 13 had $280 million in it for the wharf. A record of decision, finalizing the environmental process, was issued a week later.

Leighton disagreed because the Navy didn't "irreversibly and irretrievably" commit resources before finishing the EIS. Pursuit of funds doesn't count. If the Navy had committed to a building contract, that would've been different. The contract was awarded on May 10.

The Navy presented five reasonable alternatives to its selected design, proposing different configurations of trestles and pilings, and an option for a floating wharf, the judge said.

"In short, there's only so many ways to build a wharf," he wrote. "Plaintiffs have not suggested one the Navy ignored."

The lawsuit will go on, and so will construction.

Distributed by MCT Information Services
 

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