By Capt. Noel Dahlke
I am writing in response to a guest opinion featured in the March 9, 2017 Sun regarding the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station and the proposed ammunition pier replacement project.
The base has been a proud and safe member of the community since 1944. While the writer is correct that the base initially had few neighbors, by the late 1960s most areas immediately around the weapons station, including Huntington Harbour, Old Town and Leisure World, had already been constructed. The civilian population around the base has been stable for nearly half a century.
Safety is of the utmost importance to the Navy, and the weapons station has had an outstanding record of safety throughout its more than 70 years in operation. The Navy has strict procedures in place to ensure the safety of military personnel, the public and the environment. Most important of these: We limit the amount of explosives at any one location, so that even a worst-case accident would not cause significant damage to the residences outside of base property.
One key advantage of the ammunition pier replacement project is that it would move munitions transfer operations to the middle of Anaheim Bay, a greater distance from both civilian boat traffic and Pacific Coast Highway. This would further increase both the safety and security of our operations.
The writer states that the proposed pier would dock two large warships at the same time. If constructed, the new pier would only have the ability to dock one large 840-foot-long ship, or two medium sized, 510-foot-long vessels. To put this in perspective, the largest ship we currently service at the weapons station is nearly 700 feet long.
The writer also compares the current ammunition pier replacement plan with an unpopular 1990 proposal that would have extended the Anaheim Bay jetties 2/3 of a mile further into the ocean and significantly expanded the base footprint. The Navy took the community’s concerns to heart and the current proposal is much smaller in scale, designed from the onset to remain inside base property. Our goal is to ensure that we can meet our mission needs with the smallest possible impact to the environment and the community.
Naval weapons stations are very specialized facilities, requiring thousands of acres of open space for buffer zones, missile maintenance facilities and storage bunkers, all adjacent to a protected harbor area. Simply moving operations to another military facility as the writer suggests is not a viable option.
Weapons station operations are not compatible with the missions, topography and environmental restrictions already in place at other regional installations. Even if this were not the case, such a move would be cost prohibitive. To give just one example, a single munitions storage bunker can cost anywhere from $5-$10 million or more to build, and we have nearly 100 of them in use here at Seal Beach. The cost of recreating this infrastructure, from buildings, to bunkers, to specialized security systems, to roads, to a deep-water port, would be in the billions of dollars.
The Navy is preparing an Environmental Assessment to evaluate the impacts of the proposed ammunition pier replacement project, and we are currently working to release a draft of this document in mid-April. At that time the community will be given an opportunity to review the assessment and provide comments.
The Navy will then take community comments into account when preparing the final Environmental Assessment, which is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2018. Once all environmental documentation is complete, the Navy will decide whether to move forward with the proposed project.
I invite the public to take part in this process, and I look forward to working with our neighbors as we determine the best course of action for the Navy, the community and the environment.
Capt. Noel Dahlke is the commanding officer of Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach.