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Puget Soundkeeper, Washington Environmental Council, and Suquamish Tribe sue U.S. Navy over toxic release into Puget Sound

Categories: Homepage,Press Releases

Navy conducted a hull scraping of decommissioned aircraft carrier without pollution controls or permits

June 14, 2017, BREMERTON – Today Puget Soundkeeper, Washington Environmental Council, and the Suquamish Tribe sued the United States Navy for Clean Water Act violations. The Navy scraped the hull of the USS-Independence, a decommissioned aircraft carrier in Sinclair Inlet just outside Bremerton, WA, disregarding pollution-control measures and without obtaining a discharge permit from the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

While little was visible above the water surface, divers physically removed hull waste containing marine organisms and harmful copper-based paints. Copper-based paints are used specifically to reduce marine life growing on boat hulls because these coatings slowly leach toxic dissolved copper into the waters around the vessel. Even in very small quantities, copper is toxic to salmon and other marine life. The Navy was required to remove the marine organisms to satisfy the requirements of the Endangered Species Act and to avoid transporting non-native marine species to its final destination for scrap in Brownsville, TX.

Despite concerns over water quality impacts expressed to it by the Washington Department of Ecology and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Navy did neither applied for nor obtained a permit authorizing discharges. The January and February 2017 in-water activities occurred in the moorage area for decommissioned Naval crafts at Naval Base Kitsap. The base is located within the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Complex, a designated Superfund site because of toxic material in the sediments.

“Puget Sound is on the road to recovery, and our region has spent significant public funds to restore and remediate decades of contamination,” said Mindy Roberts, Puget Sound Director for the Washington Environmental Council. “We cannot have the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard disregarding reasonable pollution controls.”

Sinclair Inlet is on the Clean Water Act Section 303(d) list of impaired waters. Monitoring indicates that the sediment in Sinclair Inlet is not yet within healthy ranges for copper, and actions are needed to not only clean up existing contamination to protect marine life in the area but also to prevent additional pollution.

“The Suquamish Tribe raised concerns about the potential impacts of this project during government-to-government consultation with the Navy. We did this in face-to-face meetings, by telephone and letter. Despite these efforts, the Navy moved forward as planned without adequately determining the impacts of the hull cleaning, including the release of toxic substances into Sinclair Inlet waters and adding to existing sediment pollution. Though we do respect the Navy’s mission, we do not believe they should be exempt from regulations that other vessel owners routinely follow,” said Leonard Forsman, Chairman of the Suquamish Tribe.

Hull cleaning operations are typically conducted in a dry dock facility where contaminated wastes can be collected and properly treated and disposed. The Navy conducted its hull cleaning operation for two months, without Clean Water Act permits, and without complying with the Vessel General Permit for Discharges Incidental to the Normal Operation of Vessels (VGP) or the proposed rule for the Uniform National Discharge Standards for Vessels of the Armed Forces. To add insult to injury, the Navy’s own drydock at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard was just feet from where the USS-Independence was moored. The drydock had capacity– but the Navy opted to do the work in the water instead, leaving the waste behind.

“Sinclair Inlet is not a waste receptacle and the US Navy needs to stop treating it like one. Our communities that depend on the health of these waterways deserve so much better,” noted Puget Soundkeeper Chris Wilke, adding “Our federal government should be leading by example, and not openly skirting rules that our local small businesses manage to comply with.”

The USS-Independence was at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for 19 years. Although the removal of potentially invasive species was an attempt by the Navy to meet Endangered Species Act requirements, discharging the waste directly to the waterway rather than containing it at a dry dock was a clear violation of critical Clean Water Act requirements.

Puget Soundkeeper and Washington Environmental Council are represented by Richard Smith and Meredith Crafton of Smith & Lowney, PLLC.

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Press Contacts:

Mindy Roberts
Puget Sound Director, Washington Environmental Council
206-485-0103 mindy@wecprotects.org

April Leigh
Communications Coordinator, Suquamish Tribe
Office (360) 394-7102, Cell (360) 633-5015 aleigh@suquamish.nsn.us

Katelyn Kinn
Staff Attorney, Puget Soundkeeper
206-297-7002, katelyn@pugetsoundkeeper.org