The navy places sand on the seabed where the hull of the aircraft carrier was scraped

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BREMERTON, Wash. – The United States Navy is placing about 10,000 cubic meters of sand on the seabed of Washington’s Sinclair Inlet as part of a legal settlement with the state, the Suquamish Tribe and environmental groups.

A contractor’s sand-filled barge currently rests above the former site of the USS Independence, a retired aircraft carrier whose hull was scraped for marine life in 2017 before being sent to a junkyard in Texas to be dismantled.

But the tribe, along with other groups, claim in a lawsuit that scraping the hull actually released copper, zinc and other pollutants into the cove.

The work, costing $2.4 million, is known as the “thin layer placement project,” according to Naval Base Kitsap spokesman Joe Kubistek. The Navy completed a test plot ahead of the core work, which began Aug. 15.

The Navy has notified the EPA and the state Department of Ecology “that no water quality issues have been observed” during the work so far, Kubistek said.

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The regulations require the navy to place sand at a depth of 4 to 9 inches on 8 total acres on the seabed.

“The actual volume of sand placed will be determined by the requirement to achieve the prescribed cover layer thickness over the entire area, but is estimated to be around 10,000 cubic meters,” Kubistek said.

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The decommissioned aircraft carrier Independence passes through the Annapolis wharf in Port Orchard on Saturday.  The ship is heading to Brownsville, Texas to be broken up.

“A gentle scrub”

The Navy scraped the hull of the Independence, in mothballs at Naval Station Kitsap, “to minimize the risk of transfer of invasive species”, and it said it consulted with the National Marine Fisheries Service in the under the Endangered Species Act. The Navy cast said the work was a “soft scrub” of marine growth, consisting mostly of kelp and barnacles.

But conservationists said the Navy should have gotten a special permit to do the work under the Clean Water Act or not done it at all because of the environmental shape of Sinclair Inlet – it was targeted for EPA cleanup for three decades. The state attorney general’s office, which joined the lawsuit after the tribe and environmental groups alleged that ‘trucks full of solid materials, including copper and zinc’, were released in Puget Sound.

“The Navy’s decision to dump pollution into Sinclair Inlet without a permit was particularly egregious because of the already degraded state of the waterway and the vital need to focus on its recovery,” said Katelyn Kinn, attorney for the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, at the time of settlement.

The agreement, reached in early 2020, also included a decade-long moratorium on such hull scrapings of Navy ships in Puget Sound. As such, USS Kitty Hawk, another former aircraft carrier in the Puget Sound mothball fleet, had its hull scraped at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in one of only two Navy drydocks that can accommodate an aircraft carrier.

The project, by Virginia-based McLean contractor Contrack Watts, will be completed by October, Kubistek said. The settlement ordered the work to be completed by the end of 2022.

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