Kitsap sub plans raise security questions

The Navy wants a wharf expansion at Bangor to upgrade nuclear missiles. But why?

The U.S. Navy's Bangor facility, part of Navy Base Kitsap.

The U.S. Navy's Bangor facility, part of Navy Base Kitsap. akarmy (Andy Karmy)/Flickr (CC)

A Trident submarine with two escort ships.

A Trident submarine with two escort ships. Sue Frause

The Cold War is long over. The question is: How over is it?

To Tom Rogers of Poulsbo, retired U.S. Navy captain and former attack sub skipper, the end of the Cold War 21 years ago means the Navy doesn't need a second $715 million wharf at its Bangor base to handle its nuclear missiles for its submarines.

The Navy disagrees, saying the second wharf is needed to handle the huge workload of upgrading its subs' Trident II D5 missiles with nuclear warheads.

"What sort of signal does this send to Russia and China. It's the Cold War all over again. ... I think the life extension program (of the Trident II D5 missiles) is the key," Rogers said.

That "life extension program" is a massive overhaul of the electronics in those ballistic missiles to keep them in service until 2042.

The United States has 14 submarines to fire missiles with nuclear warheads — eight stationed at Bangor and six stationed on the East Coast. Bangor currently has one wharf capable of handling that upgrade work 200 days a year; other maintenance occupies the dock the rest of the year. After some wharf upgrades due to be finished by 2024, that  missile overhauling capacity is expected to hit 300 days a year. The Navy contends a capacity of 400 days of overhaul work a year is needed  meaning a second wharf is needed. However, the Navy's environmental impact study acknowledged that two wharfs would provide 500 to 600 days of operations a year — more than the needed 400 days.

The Kitsap-based  anti-nuclear-proliferatoin Ground Zero Center — to which Rogers belongs — contends future nuclear disarmament negates the need for a second explosive handling wharf.

Here are some numbers to set the scene:

The new START treaty between the United States and Russia — which went into effect in 2011 — limits the two nations to 1,550 warheads by 2018, with the caveat that a bomber carrying multiple warheads counts as only one warhead under START. These warheads are found on bombers, subs, and land.

Each U.S. sub has 24 missile launchers, with the new START treaty trimming that to 20 launchers apiece. Fourteen subs would translate to 280 missiles — each with several warheads.

France, China, Great Britain, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea have or are believed to have nuclear bombs. China is believed to have the fourth largest stockpile behind the United States, Russia, and Great Britain with about 240 warheads. Warhead totals of all eight nations are a mix of active bombs, those scheduled for dismantling, and those inactive for other reasons.

Rogers argued that if Russia and the United States shrink their stockpiles more after 2018, that will decrease the need for 400 days of wharf operations a year between now and 2042. Therefore, there is no guarantee that a $715 million second wharf will be needed, he contended. Right now, construction of the second wharf is expected to begin this summer and to be finished by 2016.

The Seattle Times reported that the Navy is expected to start replacing its current Trident II submarine fleet with a new class in 2029 with a fleet of 10 to 12 ballistic missile subs, again potentially reducing the number of missiles.

In a written statement, the Navy said the money has already been appropriated, meaning the project has a congressional OK. The project's costs will be split among four years of appropriations. Rogers still hopes to convince Congress to stop the project.

At the moment, Bangor is in the state's 1st Congressional  District, which is currently not represented because Jay Inslee resigned to run for governor. Next January, redistricting will put it in the 6th District, which has long been represented by Norm Dicks, who isn't seeking re-election. The project is expected to employ 100 to 260 construction workers.

Rogers also voiced environmental concerns about the project, especially with the pounding of hundreds of pilings for the second wharf and upgrading the first wharf.

The environmental impact study report said the driving of the pilings -— especially the noise, stirring up of dirt and air emissions  — would likely affect underwater vegetation, salmon and other fish, Stellar sea lions, marbled murrelets, orcas, and other life in and along Hood Canal.

The EIS report said:

Construction and operation of the (second wharf) would contribute to regional cumulative impacts to marine resources such as shallow-water habitat, including loss of eelgrass, macroalgae and habitat for juvenile salmon and other fish and invertebrate species. The project would also contribute to cumulative impacts on the marine environment. However, through the implementation of proposed actions in the Mitigation Action Plan, the project's contributions to cumulative impacts would be insignificant.

The mitigation plans include noise dampening measures, monitoring marine life to stop work when they get too close to the construction work, and replanting underwater vegetation.

Meanwhile, the Ground Zero Center plans to hold a day full of activities — including some about about the second wharf — at its Kitsap County site and at Bangor's front gate on May 12.

John Stang is a longtime Inland Northwest newspaper reporter who earned a Masters of Communications in Digital Media degree at the University of Washington. He can be reached by writing editor@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Apr 30, 8:52 a.m. Inappropriate

I had something to say about this but unfortunately it takes more than the new 1000 character limit to outline.

chapala21

Posted Mon, Apr 30, 12:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Is this anticipated to be an issue in the upcoming congressional elections? Up until now no issue in the district really mattered as Norm Dicks would win with 65% of the vote.

Brian_253

Posted Mon, Apr 30, 1:19 p.m. Inappropriate

I'd be interested to know why the Navy thinks that this one-time project is so urgent that it requires the building of additional permanent infrastructure.

dbreneman

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