Editorials

JBLM folds tent on new rocket tests

Flames engulf the launch truck as soldiers fire the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) during combat training in the high desert of the Yakima Training Center
Flames engulf the launch truck as soldiers fire the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) during combat training in the high desert of the Yakima Training Center Staff file, 2011

The U.S. Army deserves credit for changing course on plans for new rocket training activity at Joint Base Lewis McChord.

The proposal would have moved the artillery rockets from a remote Yakima County facility to JBLM, which is neighbor to the city of Yelm and the Nisqually Indian reservation.

It made financial sense for JBLM to see whether training could be carried out at lower cost. The plan was to reduce travel for personnel who currently must go over the Cascade Range to the Yakima Firing Range for training on the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS.

But the decision to bring new artillery noise to JBLM, located next to a more urbanized part of the state, made less sense culturally.

A test of 27 rockets last September at JBLM revealed noise readings were under 130, or below the pain level, when measured outside the base. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t an impact.

The tribe objected to the increased racket. The blasts shook windows and structures and startled many tribal residents, and tribal council Chairman Farron McCloud questioned what effect this could have on spawning salmon.

Some testing during the summer was postponed on short notice. The tribe said it spent $120,000 to relocate elderly members and others living relatively close to the training area.

In announcing its reversal of policy, JBLM said it expended a lot of effort on tests and discussions with the community. It may use noise-test results as the basis for future talks with the community about relocating training if military needs require it.

HIMARS rockets are considered a principal weapon used in overseas combat. They have been used against the Islamic State and other targets inside Syria and Iraq.

The noise dispute is only one example of how the military’s footprint is creating friction in Washington state. Parks and recreation advocates have criticized the Navy’s Whidbey Island base for sending jets on training flights over the Olympic Peninsula. Low-flying military helicopters over urban areas have drawn other complaints, as have naval sonar tests that can affect marine mammals.

The friction is natural and some of the Navy and Army actions look a bit like a testing of the waters.

But the pushback is also real — and to a degree warranted. That is why the Army should clarify its intentions to communities surrounding the base in Thurston and Pierce counties.

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