Opponents still say 'no' to SBX

Michelle <p>Trautman, with Dr. Brad Weeks answers questions about the proposed SBX radar station at Bayview Hall Thursday night. - Matt Johnson

Trautman, with Dr. Brad Weeks answers questions about the proposed SBX radar station at Bayview Hall Thursday night.

— image credit: Matt Johnson

If the past is any kind of a lesson, there is no good reason to trust the Navy and the Department of Defense as they try to homeport a high-powered "Star Wars" radar station near Whidbey Island.

This was the message opponents of the Sea-Based X-Band (SBX) radar were trying to get across at a public meeting at Bayview Hall Thursday night as they spoke to about 40 South Whidbey residents concerned about the military project. Michelle Trautman, a co-chair of the Everett group Concerned Citizens Against SBX, and South Whidbey doctor Brad Weeks, spent over two hours in front of the group, giving out what facts they could about a device that is still largely classified. That, admitted Weeks, wasn't much, because there is so much the public does not know.

"This thing has not been proven harmful because they're not willing to do the research," he said.

The SBX -- which first made the news in April after a group of Everett residents accused officials in charge of the DOD's National Missile Defense Program of trying to duck a public vetting of the project -- is a floating radar station that is planned to be part of a missile defense network. To be built by military contractors Boeing Defense and Raetheon, the radar station is to be installed atop a floating oil rig and will stand over 250 feet high when docked at Naval Station Everett. When completed, it could be seen from South Whidbey.

At a public meeting in Everett in April, project managers for the SBX said the radar -- powered by diesel generators producing enough electricity to run thousands of homes -- would operate while at the station. It would also be towed into the Pacific Ocean for full-power testing, tracking missiles as part of the National Missile Defense program.

Trautman and her group have focused primarily on the possible damage this radar system could do to human health. During the past few months, the CCA-SBX has combed through public documents, including a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the SBX. After all that work, Trautman said Thursday night, it turns out that the DOD has given itself a perfect review. It's a review she does not believe.

"The DEIS is a total sham," she said. "It says nothing."

The DOD expects to release copies of its completed environmental impact statement this month.

After short presentations by both Trautman and Weeks, the meeting turned into a question and answer session. Several people quizzed Weeks, who in speaking about the effects of electromagnetic radiation on humans brought up the example of Cape Cod. He said a radar station similar in function to the SBX, though smaller in size, has been operating in that community for about two decades. During that time, there has been a dramatic increase cancer rates.

This, he said, shows that the DOD is not learning from its mistakes.

Trautman gave a short primer on the workings of the SBX. She said the radar station is actually an array of thousands of small radar generators, all of which can be directed into a "pencil thin" beam. The problem, she said, is that the beam is not as confined as the DOD would have the public believe. She said atmospheric "scatter" could send radar waves shooting through people, animals and objects anywhere within about 14 miles of the SBX.

She also explained that the radar beam itself is a potent weapon. In conversations with DOD officials, she learned that the beam can kill at long range if directed at people. Larry Dobson, a South Whidbey resident and professional physicist who attended the meeting, found that concerning.

"This is not just to find out what's going on in the sky," he said.

Several people asked how they can oppose the military's desire to bring the SBX to Everett. Thus far, South Whidbey residents have been involved in opposing the project only at the periphery, since the DOD has not chosen to address the impacts of the SBX on Whidbey Island.

Trautman noted that her group has started a legal fund. She said CCA-SBX is trying to raise $25,000 to take the DOD to court in hopes of blocking the homeporting of the station in Everett. She said she is also working on a regular basis with Rep. Rick Larsen, who is not a supporter of National Missile Defense.

Joseph Robin, a neurologist who lives in Langley, said this is the sort of political help those opposing the SBX need.

"I think you really need political clout," he told Trautman.

At the very least, Trautman said CCA-SBX will try to get the DOD to choose an uninhabited location for the SBX. Everett is one of several places the DOD has considered homeporting the radar station, but appears to be the front runner. The Everett City Council came out in opposition of bringing the SBX to the city, recently passing a resolution to that effect.

Neither Trautman nor Weeks went so far as to demand that the DOD scrap its plans for National Missile Defense. But, comparing the military to a 17-year-old boy with a new car, Weeks said putting SBX technology into the nation's warmaking inventory is a poor risk.

"I don't trust them with the power, the Pandora, the genie they're unleashing," he said.


Learn more

CCA-SBX and Sound Citizens, a South Whidbey group working to oppose the SBX, will continue to hold meetings to plan their opposition to the SBX. On July 17, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Sound Citizens will meet at Living Green at 630A Second Street in Langley to further discuss their work. The public is invited.

Sound Citizens also plan to meet with Island County Commissioner Mike Shelton to update him on the SBX and are actively seeking public institutions to oppose the SBX. So far, only the Port District of South Whidbey has gone on record in opposition of the radar station.

For more information about the SBX, go to on the Internet. The site includes a link to a Department of Defense Web site with information about the SBX.

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