Editorials

Keep an open mind on JBLM’s artillery proposal

Flames engulf the launch truck as soldiers fire the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) during combat training at the Yakima Training Center in May 2011. The Army proposes to test firings at a Joint Base Lewis-McChord range.
Flames engulf the launch truck as soldiers fire the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) during combat training at the Yakima Training Center in May 2011. The Army proposes to test firings at a Joint Base Lewis-McChord range. Staff file, 2011

Earlier this year, South Sound officials and business interests sounded off – loudly – beseeching the Army to keep troop strength levels up at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in the face of impending Defense budget cuts.

Although JBLM will lose some troops, the cuts announced in July weren’t nearly as bad as they could have been. The region heaved a sigh of relief, knowing how important the base is to the local economy.

Now the Army is asking for something, and its request also involves high decibels.

Hoping to avoid the expense and hassle of having troops regularly travel to the Yakima Firing Range for their required rocket-launching practice, the Army wants to see if it would be practical to fire rockets at JBLM. That largely means determining if local residents can tolerate the noise of rocket firings, which is louder than the howitzer cannons we now hear and can approach sonic boom levels.

The Army would assess that tolerance with three days of tests next winter during which 27 training rounds would be fired at a range between Lacey and DuPont. The Nisqually Reservation likely would be most affected by the noise, which also could impact wildlife in the nearby Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.

Besides the cost-savings of training locally – each convoy to the Yakima range racks up $227,000 in travel expenses – there are practical and human benefits. Soldiers would not be away from their families for three weeks at a time, and freeway drivers wouldn’t have to contend with long lines of slower-moving Army vehicles.

If the proposed test shows that noise levels are tolerable, the Army should take steps to lessen the negative impacts of future firings. That should include plenty of warning that firings are to occur. It might also make sense to check with local wildlife officials to see which times of year would pose least disruption to migratory birds at the Nisqually refuge.

South Sound residents should at least keep an open mind. Let’s see how loud the new “sound of freedom” can be before jumping to conclusions.

Learn more

The Army will hold an open house on the rocket training proposal at 6 p.m. Thursday at Eagles Pride Golf Course near DuPont (Exit 116 from Interstate 5). Comments will be taken until Aug. 25 at tinyurl.com/JBLM-Noise-Comments.

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