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Navy extends training plan comment deadline

The Navy has decided to extend the comment period on a complex document that the will guide the way the Navy trains in the Pacific Northwest.

But the military's decision to give the public an extra week, until Feb. 18, to digest and comment on the lengthy plan falls short of the Island County Commissioners' request.

Monday, the commissioners unanimously voted to send a letter to Naval Facilities Engineering Command Northwest to extend the public comment period on the draft Environmental Impact Statement of the Northwest Training Range Complex from Feb. 11 to Feb. 28.

The letter, put forward by Commissioner Angie Homola, points out that glitches in the Web site set up for the public didn't allow people to download the 1,000-page document or send comments for a period of time.

"It is our shared interest to provide citizens the opportunity to review this complex proposal and to allow ample time for comment," the letter states.

"It's very weighty and very complex," Homola said of the document.

Commissioner John Dean agreed.

"I looked at it and decided this is not the way I want to spend my day," he quipped.

Friday afternoon, the county received an email from a Navy official announcing the deadline extension, which is allowed within the National Environmental Policy Act.

The draft examines the potential environmental effects of the Navy's proposal for future range management operations and activities. The Northwest Training Range Complex consists of numerous individual training areas in the Pacific Northwest. The range complex includes Puget Sound and extends westward in the Pacific Ocean — up to 250 nautical miles beyond the coast of Washington, Oregon and northern California.

The problem will the comment period have been larger than the commissioners realized. Clinton resident John Hurd said he couldn't get access until Thursday and he knows others who've had the same problem. He uses an older browser, Internet Explorer 6.0.

Hurd contacted Navy officials about the issue and they finally put him in touch with a computer engineer for a government contractor that runs the Web site. The contractor finally fixed the problem Thursday, less than a week before the deadline, Hurd said.

Hurd said a Navy official told him they had only received 40 comments through the Web site so far.

Marianne Edain of Whidbey Environmental Action Network has a different problem. It's difficult for her to read lengthy documents on a computer, so she asked for a paper copy weeks ago. She still hasn't received it.

"I'm sure I'll get it on Feb. 12," she said with a laugh.

Hurd and Edain were among about three dozen people who attended a public hearing on the draft Jan. 27. Nobody present spoke in favor of the two new alternatives outlined in the report. A third alternative calls for "no action."

The Navy's plan is to expand operations in the a military training area that has been in use since World War II.

The plan calls for increases in current training exercises, as well as the testing of new equipment and systems — including such new aircraft as the Whidbey-based Growlers and Poseidon. Among the most controversial aspects are large increases in the number of missiles fired, bombs dropped and shells fired.

Edain is very concerned about the plan and its effect on wildlife, including the move toward allowing more detonations in shallow water.

Likewise, Hurd's concerns are lengthy.

"What really sticks in my craw is that they want to use depleted uranium in their training," he said. "They are like infants playing with matches, but even worse. They don't know what they are dealing with."

Find out more, have your say

Information related to the Navy's Pacific Northwest training document is available on the project Web site and the public can submit comments online at www.NWTRangeComplexEIS.com.

All comments must be received no later than Wednesday, Feb. 18, to be considered in the Final EIS/OEIS. Written comments may be submitted via the project Web site or by mail to: Naval Facilities Engineering Command Northwest, 1101 Tautog Circle, Silverdale, WA 98315-1101, Attn: Mrs. Kimberly Kler – NWTRC EIS/OEIS.

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