Navy on notice over reef damage


POSTED: Thursday, April 02, 2009

The state has given the Navy a month to decide whether it will work to stabilize ongoing damage to the reef, coral and other natural resources caused by the grounding of the $1 billion warship USS Port Royal near the Honolulu Airport last month.;

In a four-page letter to Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald, Navy judge advocate general in Washington, D.C., Laura Thielen, chairwoman of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, said the state has not yet tallied the costs of the emergency mitigation for the immediate damaged caused by the 9,600-ton warship, the value of the coral damaged and attempts to free the Pearl Harbor-based warship.

However, the state wants the Navy to minimize the damage caused by the warship without waiting for the state's final assessment on the entire recovery and restoration costs.

Thielen warned that costs will increase substantially unless the Navy acts to immediately mitigate the primary damage impacts by assisting in the recovery of injured coral; preventing further secondary damage by removing or stabilizing significant amounts of damaged coral rubble prior to the arrival of large south summer swells; and protecting loose live coral to prevent further damage to public trust resources, in coordination with the state and in compliance with emergency permitting requirements.

Mark Matsunaga, Navy spokesman, said, “;The Navy has been working on a proposal to mediate the damage caused by the grounding of USS Port Royal in coordination with the state of Hawaii.”;

He said the Navy was to meet with the state today to discuss the findings of its investigation and “;proposed courses of action.”;

That information still has not been made public. Nor has the Navy released any information on the fate of the Port Royal's skipper, Capt. John Carroll, or any of the sailors or officers who were standing watch just after dusk on Feb. 5, when the grounding occurred.

The 567-foot-long Port Royal ran aground the reef in water about 14 to 22 feet deep. After several unsuccessful attempts, the guided-missile cruiser was removed on Feb. 9.

The state Health Department already has said the Navy will not be fined over the ship's dumping 7,000 gallons of waste water while it was stuck for nearly four days on a reef a half-mile south of Honolulu Airport.

;[Preview]    Price Unknown For Environmental Damages From Port Royal

Repairs to the navy ship are expected to cost taxpayers around $40 million and the state is worried that habitats for Hawaiian animals were damaged.



Laurence Lau, deputy director for environmental health administration, said that under the federal Clean Water Act, the state has “;no jurisdiction over a Navy warship.”;

However, Thielen said the Navy will have to pay to mitigate the algae bloom effects caused by the waste-water spill as well as biological and possible ecological problems caused by the paint scraped off the Port Royal's hull. The state is waiting for the results of a toxicity study.

Thielen in her letter said the state wants immediate assistance to minimize “;the amount of primary damage resulting from the grounding incident and to prevent potentially devastating secondary damage that could be aggravated by the upcoming summer swell.”;

Thielen added that at a March 5 meeting of Navy, Justice Department, Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials, state officials gave the Navy 15 CDs of dive photos, a CD of measurements of the main coral scar and other related documents.

Thielen said the primary damage area covers about six to 10 acres, and the “;main injury scar”; to the reef covers about 9,600 square feet. Federal and state officials have found “;extensive”; damage to the reef, live coral and rocks in the area. Some of the damage was caused by the anchor chains dropped from the cruiser, tow boat cables and possible grounding of tugboats.

The incident also may have damaged the habitat of green sea turtles, Thielen added.

“;The reef that was injured is an ancient one, full of coral colonies, some of which took hundreds of years to reach their present size. A complex reef structure such as the one that was present prior to this injury forms numerous and intricate houses for the myriad of fish, invertebrates and sea turtles that use this reef for shelter and food resources,”; she said.

Further damage could be caused in a larger surrounding area, Thielen added, by the coral rubble moved about by currents and waves.

The Port Royal has been dry-docked at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard since Feb. 19 and faces at least $40 million in repairs to its hull, sonar dome and propeller blades.