Navy Settles Lawsuit, Won't Scrape Ship Hulls in Puget Sound

Seaman scrapes barnacles from bottom of rigid hull inflatable boat
Seaman Audriana Wheeler scrapes barnacles from the bottom of a rigid hull inflatable boat aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), Aug. 12, 2014. (U.S. Navy photo/Christopher Frost)

TACOMA, Wash. — The U.S. Navy on Wednesday agreed to a 10-year moratorium on scraping the hulls of decommissioned vessels in Puget Sound.

The deal, filed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, settles a lawsuit filed by the Suquamish Tribe and two environmental groups, Washington Environmental Council and Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson joined the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleged that when the Navy cleaned the hull of the decommissioned aircraft carrier Independence at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in 2017, they used abrasive scrubbers and blasted the hull with powerful jets of water. That sent bits of paint, the metals zinc and copper, and other contaminants into Sinclair Inlet.

The Navy disputed that it caused pollution and said it was cleaning the hull so that as the aircraft carrier was towed to Texas for dismantling, it wouldn't bring any invasive species with it.

In the settlement agreement, the Navy said it would not conduct further hull cleaning in Sinclair Inlet except to the extent it is required for hull integrity tests or to prepare the vessel to be put in dry-dock. It agreed the preferred method for cleaning vessel hulls is to do so in dry-dock where the pollution can be contained.

The Navy also agreed that by 2022 it will place a 10-centimeter thick layer of clean sand over the area where it scrubbed the Independence.

Among the six decommissioned ships covered by the agreement are the former aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk.

Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and the state of Washington said they reserved the right to seek legal fees from the Navy.

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