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The Bush Administration will haunt this nation for many years. Among its most egregious and devious legacies was a 2007 proposal to expand US Navy control over territorial waters beyond Puget Sound in Washington to include the entire coast of Oregon as well as part of northern California. This plan was effectively concealed from public view to the extent that to this day very few Oregonians know about it, much less the rest of the country. And because no one knew about it, no objections were raised and the plan is well on the way to execution.

The Navy has had a strong presence and active training grounds in the Puget Sound area since World War II, and the economy of Washington is in many ways dependent on military funding, directly and indirectly. Oregon has no Navy bases and has little or no military funding except for the notorious Army chemical weapons depot in Umatilla. Oregon's coastal waters have long been a valuable resource for fishing, tourism, sports, recreation and wildlife preservation, with almost no military presence or activity.

In July 2007, the Navy published notice in the Federal Register of its intent to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) on its proposal to expand its Puget Sound activities down the coastline to northern California. Those activities include extensive air combat maneuvers, missile and gunnery exercises, antisubmarine warfare exercises, electronic combat exercises, mine countermeasures (including underwater “training” minefields), intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations and extensive unmanned aerial systems operations (i.e., drones), in an area of ocean from the coastline to beyond the 12-mile territorial limit. During its activities in these waters the Navy could prohibit entry into its training or exercise area. The excuse for pre-empting commercial fishing, tourism, surfing, sports fishing and boating over the entire Pacific Northwest coastline is – you guessed it – the old Bush juggernaut, national security.

The Navy published its notice in five Washington newspapers, including the state-wide Seattle Times, but in only a single small-town weekly paper from Lincoln City, in north coastal Oregon, and a small California paper from Eureka.

In September 2007, the Navy held hearings on developing the scope and number of significant issues to be covered in the EIS, holding three meetings in Washington, one in Eureka, California, and one in the tiny town of Depoe Bay, Oregon. Unless Oregonians from other parts of its 262-mile coastline happened to read the weekly Lincoln City paper, they had no way of knowing about the meeting or the Navy's proposal to take over Oregon's territorial waters.

Fast forward to December 2008. As the Bush administration packed up to depart this vale of tears, the Navy rushed its 700-plus page draft environmental impact statement into print. The EIS, predictably, concluded that its missiles, bombs, guns, sonar and other explosive operations would have no significant impact on marine mammals, birds, or fish and no significant impact on humans along the Oregon coast.

The Navy announced publication of the EIS in the same newspapers as before, giving the public 45 days to submit comments on its proposal. The Navy thus presumed it served adequate notice to the entire population of Oregon, which has a vested interest in the state's valuable coastal waters and coastline, by printing a notice in a tiny weekly paper in a single coastal town. In addition, the only hard copy of the EIS provided for the entire population of Oregon was lodged in the library of the same town.

During January 2009, the Navy placed ads in the weekly newspaper of Newport, Oregon, midway down the coast, announcing a meeting for public comments on the EIS in nearby South Beach on Jan. 30, 11 days before the public comment period ended. The ads were in very small type, buried in back pages, such as the sports section, of the Newport paper. Very few people noticed them. On the day before the meeting, news spread by word of mouth from people whose friends in Seattle had read of the meetings in the Seattle Times. Very few of those who were informed could travel all the way to Newport to attend the meeting.

Among these were a marine mammal expert, Bruce Mate; a county commissioner and commercial fisherman, Terry Thompson; at least one other fisherman; an 80-year-old activist on marine reserves and coastal conservation issues; at least one lawyer, and other local residents. Every person who commented complained about the absurdly inadequate notice given to the Oregon public about Navy usurpation of its coastal waters. The other comments criticized the Navy's abysmal ignorance of the people, economy, geography, wildlife and politics of the area they proposed to control.

“I asked the Navy officials how their activities would affect the marine reserves off the coast, and they just looked blank and said they knew nothing about any marine reserves,” 80-year-old Charlotte Mills reported. “And when I asked how a press release to the Lincoln City News Guard could possibly give adequate notice of their proposal, their PR person said she thought the News Guard was the same as the Newport News Times.

“They simply didn't bother to do their homework,” said Susan Hogg, a Newport lawyer who attended the meeting. “I only heard about the meeting the day before and hadn't had time to read the EIS, but it was obvious from other commenters that the Navy hadn't bothered to talk to any local people or experts. Now that I've looked at it, the document is so vague and contradictory it doesn't reveal their real intentions at all. What the Navy's asking is a blank check to do whatever it wants over the whole Pacific Northwest coast.”

Oregon's territorial waters, of course, are a resource of the entire nation, and the issue of a Navy take-over is of national as well as state concern. Ceding all peaceful uses and enjoyment of our coastal waters to military war preparations reflects a monumental change in our national identity, economy, society and philosophy. The US Navy should have notified not only the people of Oregon but of the whole nation of such a drastic shift in public policy.

UPDATE #1: Here is the link to the Environmental Impact Statement produced by the Navy.

UPDATE #2: The Navy is taking public comment on the plan. Deadline for response is February 11, 2009.

Written responses should be sent to:

New Facilities Engineering Command NW
1101 Tautog Circle - Suite 203
Silverdale, WA 98315-1101
attn: Mrs. Kimberly Kier

online comments can be made here.

UPDATE #3: There will be a public hearing TONIGHT in Eureka, CA at 7:00pm
Location: Eureka Women’s Club, 1531 J Street, Eureka, CA 95501

Originally posted to Planet Waves on Mon Feb 02, 2009 at 09:15 AM PST.

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