Group sues over Navy's plans for electronic-warfare training in Olympic National Forest

SEATTLE (AP) — A new lawsuit is challenging a decision by the U.S. Forest Service to let the Navy use Olympic National Forest for expanded electronic-warfare training exercises.

The Forest Service in late July issued the Navy a special permit that will allow it to drive three mobile electronic transmitters onto roads in the forest and park them at 11 spots, mostly above cliffs or other viewpoints facing west to the ocean.

The transmitters would engage in exercises with radar-jamming jet pilots from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, and they would operate about 12 hours per day on up to 250 days per year.

A group called Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics sued over the decision in U.S. District Court on Friday. It says the Forest Service failed to consider whether the transmitters could be parked on private land instead, or whether the Navy's use of the land is compatible with the public's enjoyment of the land. Those considerations are required under Olympic National Forest's management plan, the lawsuit said.

"The mobile emitters and associated yellow caution tape will alter the visual character of the roadside by imposing a military-type appearance," the lawsuit says. "The Forest Service failed to consider this impact of parking military-style vehicles and associated yellow caution tape to the visual character of these backcountry sites visited by national forest recreationists."

Neither the Forest Service nor the Navy immediately returned calls seeking comment Monday. They previously determined the project will not have a significant impact on noise, public health or plants and animals. Flights over Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest would increase up to 10 percent, the Navy said.

Pilots have previously engaged in training flights over the area, but the use of the mobile transmitters is designed to make their exercises more realistic, the Navy has said.

Spokesman Mike Welding told the Peninsula Daily News in August that the Navy has conducted electronic-warfare training above the northern Olympic Peninsula since the 1960s.