Navy asks public about plans to remove explosives on Central Whidbey

Located across the highway from Greenbank Farm

The Navy is asking members of the public what they think about plans for removing any potentially explosive materials from an off-limits wetlands on Central Whidbey Island.

The 423-acre former Lake Hancock Target Range is now a pristine, brackish lagoon surrounded by freshwater marsh and uplands. It’s located across the highway from Greenbank Farm.

The area has been off limits to the civilian world since the  Navy used it as a bombing range in World War II. The bombs were inert, but “spotting charges” in the bombs have the capability to injure, according to coursework on the site from the University of Washington.

It remains off limits to the public not just because of the potential for injury, but because it’s still part of Navy training operations, according to Leslie Yuenger, public affairs officer for Naval Facilities Engineering Command.

And while the Navy is considering work to address the public safety issues, there are no plans to open it up for recreational uses, she said.

That’s a good thing, according to Steve Erickson of Whidbey Environmental Action Network. He led a group of wetland scientists through the area and found that it’s a rare, untouched place with a “high-class plant community.”

“Probably the less disturbance there, the better,” he said.

Yuenger agreed and said the Navy is aware of the environmental sensitivity of the area. The Navy works with the Nature Conservancy to manage the land.

The Navy evaluated four remedial alternatives for addressing the potential for explosive hazards in the area. The preferred alternative is “surface removal” around the target area and beachfront.

The Navy, in cooperation with the Washington State Department of Ecology, held an open house Monday at Greenbank Farm. Those who missed the meeting can submit comments online at http://go.usa.gov/cStwd or mail them to the Department of Navy, NAVFAC NW, former Lake Hancock Target Range, 1101 Tautog Circle, Silverdale, WA 98315-1101.