Basing battleship in New York raises nuclear safety concerns

Congressmen in New York and New Jersey want further study on the issue of nuclear safety before the United States Navy continues with its plan to base the battleship USS Iowa and its flotilla in New York Harbor. The controversial base would be homeport for the battleship and a seven-ship surface action group on the waterfront of Staten Island. It is a plan widely hailed by some as a plum for New York City in terms of jobs and expanded economic activity.

But opponents say it is likely that nuclear weapons will be brought into the New York-New Jersey harbor along with the fleet. And the Navy, they say, has not replied satisfactorily to questions about safety.

The Navy has filed both a draft and a final environmental impact statement with the Environmental Protection Agency, and a 30-day ``no-action'' period has passed since the EIS was filed. Now Secretary of the Navy John Lehman must sign a letter of intent, stating whether or not the Navy plans to go ahead with the proposal. A decision was not expected Monday, said both Navy and congressional sources at the time of writing.

The Staten Island site, located in the Stapleton-Fort Wadsworth area, is the preferred site for the group. Also considered was a site in Boston and two in Rhode Island.

A spokesman for US Rep. Guy V. Molinari (R), a supporter of the homeport plan, said ``papers were waiting to be signed,'' but that the signing might not come for a few days. ``We have no indication that it won't be a positive decision for Staten Island,'' said Robert Dizard, Mr. Molinari's press aide.

But several New York congressmen, including Ted Weiss (D) of Manhattan and the Bronx and Joseph P. Addabbo (D) of Queens, have requested that a supplemental EIS be filed on the issue of nuclear safety.

``A potential nuclear weapons accident is of overriding environmental concern,'' says a spokesman for Congressman Weiss. The Navy, he says, failed to address the issue in its EIS.

Lt. Comdr. Jamie Davidson says the Navy feels the EIS is ``complete'' and ``looks good,'' answering concerns brought up in the four public hearings held in New York and New Jersey. The report looked at environmental and socioeconomic impacts during both construction and operation, including such details as how the homeport would affect soil, water quality, cultural resources, the local economy, traffic, noise, and air quality.

The majority of questions during the hearings were nuclear related, the Navy acknowledges. An appendix to the final EIS was included ``to provide references on nuclear topics'' that are already available. Included are abstracts of a point paper on nuclear topics by the Navy, a federal radiological emergency response plan, and the Nuclear Weapons Accident Response Procedures manual.

In a letter to Secretary Lehman, Weiss said he was ``profoundly disappointed'' with the final EIS, asking how the homeport could be assessed without a discussion of the safety issues. He questioned whether any plans had been made with city, state, or federal agencies in case of a weapons accident, what specific agencies were involved, and what porportion of the Navy's budget would go to emergency response planning.

The Navy, citing national security, has not disclosed whether or not the fleet will carry nuclear weapons.

Emergency planning should be made available, without divulging whether or not there are nuclear warheads on the ships, says a spokeswoman for Weiss.

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