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Alaska to get SBX radar

With pounds of reports about the SBX radar system in hand, Joan Govedare of Freeland has been opposing the weapon
With pounds of reports about the SBX radar system in hand, Joan Govedare of Freeland has been opposing the weapon's possible siting near Everett.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

As usually happens in David vs. Goliath stories, Goliath has lost again.

On Friday, two citizens' groups from South Whidbey and Everett learned that they had beaten the Department of Defense's Missile Defense Agency by blocking the homeporting of a high-powered anti-missile radar station in Everett.

The day before, the agency announced its plans to base its Sea-Based X-Band radar station in Adak, Alaska, rather than in Everett, as it had planned.

For Freeland resident Joan Govedare, the decision was a victory for the community.

"It's a good feeling," she said. "It shows public opinion does work and it's worthwhile to put yourself out there and do the battle."

Everett-based Concerned Citizens Against SBX and South Whidbey's Sound Citizens fought the radar proposal based on its ability to cause damage to human health. Signing on to their cause were were, among others, the Island County Board of Commissioners and Congressman Rick Larsen. Larsen was pleased with DOD's decision to move its future operations to Alaska.

"The decision is great news for Everett and for Snohomish and Island counties," Larsen said in a faxed statement Friday. "I think we're all breathing a sigh of relief today,"

Lori Oneal, a Clinton resident who fought the county's program of spraying herbicides on roadside weeds and who was involved with Sound Citizens, said she was surprised and amazed at the news.

"This is entire process started on a prayer," she said. "I am ecstatic about the news. We have a powerful community."

Oneal was particularly impresses with the help her group's cause received from the Board of Island County Commissioners. In a June letter to the DOD, the commissioners noted that the DOD's own environmental impact statement shows the radar could affect the health of island residents. In addition, the commissioners objected to the radar's proximity to Naval Air Station Whidbey.

Rick Lehner, director of communications for the Missile Defense Agency said in a telephone interview this week that public opinion regarding the SBX was considered in the decision to take the SBX program to the 250-person town in Alaska, but wasn't the deciding factor.

"The operational effectiveness is the most important factor," he said. "The main reason the SBX will be sited in Adak is because the radar is more effective the farther west it is. From Adak it can operate in the port. It would have to be towed out to sea from Everett to operate effectively.

The SBX is actually an array of thousands of small radar generators all of which can be directed into a pencil thin beam. But the beam, according to the DOD, may not be confined and could scatter, sending radar waves shooting through people, animals and objects anywhere within a 14-mile radius of the radar station. South Whidbey would have been inside that radius.

Like the people in the biblical story, who danced and sang after young David's victory over Goliath, Govedere and Oneal say a community celebration will be planned.

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