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Navy to Avoid Another Oyster-Killing

U.S. Navy officials say they want to assure Hood Canal residents that steps have been taken to avoid a repeat of an incident linked to the destruction of thousands of oysters.

Hood Canal residents blamed the USS Port Royal, a 567-foot guided missile cruiser, for creating a wake that washed oysters high up on their beaches on Aug. 11.

Some oysters — including those at Scenic Beach State Park — were moved back down to the water by volunteers. But many more on both sides of Hood Canal perished in the heat of the summer sun, according to residents, including Vickie Veloni of Miami Beach near Seabeck.

Sean Hughes, public affairs officer for Navy Region Northwest, said officials from Naval Undersea Warfare Center-Keyport wanted area residents to know that they have the highest regard for sensitive environmental conditions.

“The local Navy is well aware of not only national security obligations but also local environmental issues,” he said.

“We recognize that there were some things we could do to make sure this does not happen again,” Hughes said, adding that “process improvements” have been implemented. He said he could not elaborate for security reasons.

“Working with the rest of the Navy, we are confident that the implementation of these improved processes can essentially guarantee that our operation on Dabob Bay can be incident free,” he said.

Veloni said she is pleased the Navy has taken steps to avoid such problems in the future, but she does not agree that the tide was a factor.

“It was a fairly optimal time for the tide,” she said. “If that tide had been farther in, they would have ruined bulkheads and caused lawn furniture to wash away. Waves weren’t crashing on top of the bulkheads, so the damage was done to the beach itself.”

The heavy waves pushed the oysters as well as gravel into a ridge above the high-tide mark for that time of year.

“The ridge is still there, but it’s not as high as it was,” Veloni said Wednesday. “By the end of winter, it will be gone.”

Veloni said she and her neighbors have never seen anything like the wake they encountered — but they’ve never seen a ship the size of the Port Royal in Hood Canal, either. Residents believe the cause of the wake was a combination of the size of the ship, its speed and its rapid turning in the narrow waterway.

Several claims for damages have been filed with the Navy, but Veloni said all she wanted was for the Navy to acknowledge the problem and promise it won’t happen again. The Navy’s statement to the Kitsap Sun is good enough for her, she said.

Hughes said anyone who wishes to file a claim should contact Lt. Matt Dursa with the Admiralty and Maritime Law Division of the Judge Advocate General. Call (202) 685-5995