The Navy is scraping the hull of a decommissioned aircraft carrier docked at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard just outside of Bremerton. The goal is to prevent potentially invasive species from traveling with the ship when it’s towed to Texas to be dismantled.
But the Environmental Protection Agency and others are concerned the scraping itself could be causing environmental harm. That’s because the hull of the ex-U.S.S. Independence is covered with copper-based paint, which Navy divers will be scraping underwater. Copper can be toxic to salmon and other marine life.
“We’ve expressed our concerns to the Navy about the potential impact on both the Puget Sound and the Superfund site there, since the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard is a Superfund site,” says Mark MacIntyre, an EPA spokesperson. “And so we’ve asked the Navy to develop a more robust monitoring plan to address these concerns and to share that plan with us.”
Washington State requires ships with copper-based paint to be dry-docked before their hulls can be scraped, but the state does not have the authority to force the Navy to comply.
However, if the Washington Department of Ecology registers increased copper levels in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard at the end of 2017, it could force the Navy to do an expensive clean-up of the site.
The Navy responded to an interview request with an emailed statement that described its plans to avoid the removal of paint.
"A team of highly skilled divers are gently scrubbing marine growth on the hull of the ship in order to prevent the possible transfer of invasive species," the Navy wrote. "The objective of the cleaning is only to disturb the reproductive capability of the marine life on the hull, not to remove the biological material or paint."
The Navy also said it was working with federal environmental agencies and in compliance with the Clean Water Act.
"The Navy is continuing to work with EPA regarding water quality and sediment monitoring in the area. The National Marine Fisheries Service analyzed the impacts of this activity on endangered species and fish habitat, and found that the cleaning would have only localized and temporary effects," it said.
Clarification. Jan. 11, 2017: The Navy has disputed the description provided by the EPA and the Washington Department of Ecology for the military jurisdiction of its hull-scraping operation outside Bremerton, Washington. The Navy says the vessel is docked at Naval Base Kitsap, not at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.