BREMERTON, Wash. — The U.S. Navy is placing about 10,000 cubic yards of sand onto the seafloor of Sinclair Inlet in Washington as part of a legal settlement with the state, the Suquamish Tribe, and environmental groups.

A contractor’s sand-filled barge currently rests above the former site of the USS Independence, a retired aircraft carrier whose hull was scraped for marine life in 2017 before it was sent to a Texas scrapyard for dismantling.

But the tribe, along with other groups, claim in a lawsuit the hull-scraping actually released copper, zinc and other pollutants into the inlet. 

The work, at a cost of $2.4 million, is known as the “Thin Layer Placement project,” according to Joe Kubistek, a spokesman for Naval Base Kitsap. The Navy completed a test plot prior to the heart of the work, which began on Aug. 15. 

The Navy notified the EPA and the state’s Department of Ecology “that no water quality issues have been observed” during the work so far, Kubistek said.

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The settlement requires the Navy to place sand at a depth of 4 to 9 inches over 8 total acres on the seafloor. 

“The actual volume of sand being placed will be determined by the requirement to achieve the prescribed layer thickness of coverage over the entire area, but is estimated to be around 10,000 cubic yards,” Kubistek said. 

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The decommissioned aircraft carrier Independence passes by the Annapolis Dock in Port Orchard on Saturday. The ship is going to Brownsville, Texas for dismantling.

‘A gentle scrub’

The Navy scraped the hull of the Independence, in mothballs at Naval Base Kitsap, “in order to minimize the risk of invasive species transfer,” and it said it consulted with the National Marine Fisheries Service as part of the Endangered Species Act. The Navy cast said the work was a “gentl(e) scrub” of the marine growth, consisting mainly of kelp and barnacles.

But environmental advocates said the Navy should’ve obtained special permitting to do the work under the Clean Water Act or not do it at all because of the environmental shape of Sinclair Inlet — it has been targeted for cleanup by the EPA for three decades. The state attorney general’s office, which joined the suit after the tribe and environmental groups, alleged “truckloads of solid materials, including copper and zinc,” were released into Puget Sound.