Call it a preemptive strike by the Nisqually tribe.
Army officials say no decision has been made, and they plan to wait for noise data and community input collected during last week’s test rockets at Joint Base Lewis-McChord before determining if they’ll try to move future High Mobility Rocket System (HIMARS) training to this side of the mountains.
But Nisqually tribal officials say they’ve already begun reaching out to political allies such as Gov. Jay Inslee and the state’s congressional delegation to try to keep future HIMARS exercises in Yakima.
“We’ve talked with Congressman Heck about it, and Sen. Murray,” Nisqually tribal council member Willie Frank III told The Olympian this week. “We’re strongly opposing the continuation (of it at JBLM). …It’s just absurd to think they’d continue to do this.”
Frank said he feels, for the most part, that the tribe and its military neighbor have a good relationship, but there are several reasons the tribe is objecting to the rocket training at JBLM.
“Our biggest concern is our natural resources,” Frank said. “We want to make sure that not just our salmon but our wildlife and everything we have in our area is preserved and protected, and we don’t need missiles and rockets firing over us right now.”
The tribe and the military monitored noise levels at a number of locations on the reservation. Army officials say that readings from off-base sensors showed noise levels from the firings were below the maximum threshold of 130 decibels.
Tribal spokeswoman Debbie Preston said they’ve been told that the noise levels at the tribe’s Clear Creek Fish Hatchery, which is on JBLM, reached 122 and 125 decibels.
However, JBLM officials haven’t released exact readings yet.
“We have to wait for the report to come back from the U.S. Army Public Health Center,” JBLM spokesman Joseph Piek said on Thursday. “…The leadership will take that and other facts into consideration before making decision on whether to move forward with additional environmental study.”
On Friday, Kerry Arndt, a spokeswoman for Sen. Patty Murray’s office, released a statement on the issue: “As with any proposal, Sen. Murray wants to make sure everyone who may be affected has a chance to make their voice heard. Once the test results come in and there is a better sense of what the data says, she plans to continue working with all parties to make sure they find a good path forward.”
Thurston County Commissioner Bud Blake said the three-member Board of County Commissioners received one complaint about the rocket tests.
If the Army planned to pursue more HIMARS exercises and county residents were upset about it, the board would likely look into the issue, Blake said.
“We’re absolutely concerned for the citizens,” Blake said.
The decorated Army veteran said he’s familiar with the HIMARS weapon system.
“Personally I don’t know why they don’t do it in Texas, either at Fort Hood, or Fort Bliss,” he said. “I’ve been there many times and it is super wide open.”
Meantime, Lacey mayor Andy Ryder said he can see both sides of the issue. He said he understands that the Army is trying to save money by keeping the training local, but he knows it was loud.
He said he feels the issue could be resolved through the South Sound Military & Communities Partnership, which is made up of the tribe, JBLM and the base’s bordering cities including Lacey and Lakewood, as well as Thurston and Pierce counties.
“This would be a great topic for us to all get together and discuss,” Ryder said. “…I really believe it’s a matter of good governance to sit down and talk through anyone’s concerns.”
Kati Rutherford, communications director for Rep. Heck, said their office will be looking at the impacts the test rockets had in terms of noise, environment and the impact on society.
“We acknowledge concerns that either the tribes or other members of the community might have,” Rutherford said.
She said she believes JBLM has put forth “good faith effort” with the noise study, and reaching out to get feedback from its neighbors and those affected by the rocket tests.
“This is something that they’re trying to save taxpayer money on,” Rutherford said. “They’re trying to analyze the impacts, do it in a responsible way and work with the surrounding communities. …We think working together is always the best way to approach things like this.”
Nisqually officials have also reached out to President Barack Obama.
Last week, on the first morning of the test rockets, Nisqually tribal chairman Farron McCloud hand delivered a letter to the White House, asking the commander-in-chief to intervene and stop the rocket tests.
“Dear Mr. President, it has been 100 years since Pierce County condemned 3,337 acres of Nisqually tribal land for a part of what has become Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM),” the letter states. “In that time, we here at Nisqually have become accustomed to a diminished quality of life with cannon fire, helicopters, ground-pounding vibrations that are destructive to our homes, structures and infrastructure and now potential sonic boom-inducing aircraft. It’s life in a war zone. We object to the plan to move this training here permanently from Yakima where it is best suited.”