The U.S. Navy has agreed to a 10-year moratorium on scraping the hulls of decommissioned vessels in Puget Sound.
The deal, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, settles a lawsuit filed by the Suquamish Tribe, the environmental group Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
The lawsuit alleged that when the Navy cleaned the hull of the decommissioned aircraft carrier ex-Independence at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in 2017, workers used abrasive scrubbers and blasted the hull with powerful jets of water. That sent bits of paint, the metals zinc and copper, and other contaminants into Sinclair Inlet.
Sinclair Inlet has been part of the Suquamish Tribe's traditional fishing area since time immemorial, and Tribal fishers continue to exercise their Treaty-reserved fishing rights there, according to officials.
"This settlement will help protect these marine resources for future generations," said Leonard Forsman, Chairman of the Suquamish Tribe. "By avoiding protracted litigation, this agreement is also a step toward repairing the Tribe's and Navy's government-to-government relationship, while the Tribe continues to protect treaty-reserved waters."
The moratorium includes six decommissioned vessels and any other future ships that come into Sinclair Inlet in the next 10 years.
The cleaning of the ships must now be done in a dry dock so contaminants can be contained and not reach Puget Sound.
The U.S. Navy will also have to place a six to nine inch layer of clean sand over eight acres of the Sinclair Inlet floor.
Bill Sherman, from the State Attorney General's Office, said the case shows that "No one is above the laws that protect our waters, not even the federal government."
The U.S. Naval Base Kitsap did not return KING 5's request for comment.
This case is separate from another piece of litigation where the Suquamish Tribe is accusing the Navy of several sewage spills, one of which damaged shellfish. That case is still ongoing.