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Suquamish Tribe, Enviro Groups Suing US Navy Over Hull-Scraping In Sinclair Inlet

Flickr Creative Commons
The fifth USS Independence (CV/CVA-62,) a Forrestal-class aircraft carrier of the United States Navy, seen on September 1, 2013 at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, WA.

The Suquamish Tribe and two environmental groups have filed notice that they plan to sue the Navy over work on the decommissioned USS Independence that they say is polluting Sinclair Inlet near Bremerton, in violation of the Clean Water Act.

About three inches of barnacles and other marine life has built up on the hull of the decommissioned aircraft carrier. Earlier this month, divers began scraping it to prevent invasive species from traveling with it when it’s towed to Texas where it will be scrapped. They’re doing the work in the water.

“That concerns us, because the paint on vessels like this has quite a bit of copper in it, that’s used to try to keep off some of the marine organisms, because it’s toxic to marine organisms.” said Mindy Roberts, Puget Sound director for the Washington Environmental Council.

Copper is known to damage the sensory systems of salmon and even in small doses can prevent them from spawning. That’s why the state has phased it out of things like brake pads and normal boat paint.

“This operation would be illegal on a commercial vessel at a shipyard in our area; it would be illegal at a boatyard or a marina in our area. And the Navy is moving forward with this asserting that there’s no harm being done. But our worry is that there is significant harm being done,” said Chris Wilke, executive director with Puget Soundkeeper.  

Navy spokeswoman Colleen O’Rourke said in a statement that skilled divers are scrubbing gently, and that this is a common procedure in which their objective is only to disturb the reproductive capability of the marine life on the hull, not to remove any biological material or paint.

The plaintiffs in the case say it should not be done without a permit.

“I don’t know how you gently scrub a barnacle. I guess I would be very curious what that looks like,” Roberts said.  

She says at a minimum, the Navy should use a silt curtain or other technology to contain their scraping.

The Navy is not commenting on the lawsuit, except to say that it is in compliance with the Clean Water Act and that the requirement for discharge permits does not apply to Navy hull cleaning.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to