State AG: Navy released ‘50 dump truck loads’ of toxic pollutants into Sinclair Inlet in 2017

Attorney General Bob Ferguson threatened a citizens’ lawsuit if the Navy does not address its alleged “ongoing violations” of the Clean Water Act.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson warned the U.S. Navy this week of a potential lawsuit for alleged ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act related to the dumping of toxic pollutants in Sinclair Inlet.

In a letter sent Thursday to high-ranking military officials including Naval Base Kitsap Captain Edward “Alan” Schrader, Ferguson accused the Navy of illegally releasing “fifty dump truck loads of solid waste” into Puget Sound during the in-water hull cleaning of the 60,000-ton decommissioned aircraft carrier the ex-USS Independence in January 2017, while the vessel was moored at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

“The cleaning and scraping of the hull released several pollutants, including copper and zinc, into the waters and sediment of Sinclair Inlet,” a press release from the office of the attorney general states. “Copper and zinc are highly toxic to marine life and affect the health of the entire aquatic food chain, including salmon and orcas.”

The Navy began in-water hull scraping of the Independence around Jan. 6, 2017, according to the letter. The process uses rotary brushes and high-powered jets of water to “pulverize, scrape and blast debris from the hull.”

The EPA recommends hull cleaning be done in dry dock, or using “other pollution containment technology,” a recommendation the Navy did not heed, Ferguson said.

Copper-based paints are used specifically to prevent marine organisms from growing on the hulls of boats. Copper is toxic to marine life when found in high concentrations, according to the EPA.

In his letter, Ferguson expressed concern that the same practice of in-water hull scraping would occur with the ex-USS Kitty Hawk, an aircraft carrier decommissioned in 2009 that is currently in plans to be towed and dismantled.

Ferguson threatened to join an ongoing 2017 lawsuit brought by the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and other environmental and tribal groups as a plaintiff if the Navy does not address the alleged violations within 60 days.

Ferguson asked the Navy to remove the debris scraped off the ex-Independence and take “any other action necessary to stop and remediate the ongoing discharge of pollutants” caused by in-water hull cleaning.

“If the Navy fails to remedy its ongoing CWA violations,” Ferguson wrote, “Washington intends to intervene as a plaintiff” seeking injunctive relief.

A spokesperson for the Navy declined a request for comment Friday citing ongoing litigation, and referred all questions to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Gabe Stutman is a reporter with the Kitsap News Group. Follow him on Twitter @kitsapgabe.