To improve chemical, biological, and radiological defense capabilities in the Washington, D.C. area, the U.S. Navy proposed to relocate its Chemical, Biological, and Radiological Defense Division operations and approximately 150 personnel to an installation in Maryland. This project would involve relocating potentially controversial laboratory and outdoor testing operations, including a Biosafety Level 3 laboratory with potential for a perceived public health risk. It would also involve relocating over-water testing operations that, when utilized in the new location, would release chemical and biological simulants over the Potomac River; use Navy boats, helicopters, and unmanned aerial vehicles; and require expanded restrictions on public boat traffic in the river during testing. The Navy turned to ERG to provide National Environmental Policy Act review and public outreach support for this project.
ERG developed an environmental assessment to ensure that the project’s potential impacts to the public and the environment were appropriately considered by the Navy and clearly communicated to the public. To address public health concerns, we described the various approaches the Navy would use to monitor and enhance safety within the over-water testing area; emphasized the low toxicity and public health risk associated with the compounds and simulants used in outdoor testing; and described the laboratory emission controls used to prevent releases of biological organisms and volatile chemical agents and other chemicals. The environmental assessment described the Navy’s plans to communicate testing schedules and coordinate testing activities in a manner that would minimize disruption of public boat traffic. We also addressed the more typical types of impacts associated with personnel relocation and infrastructure projects, including temporary construction-related impacts, renovation of historic buildings, and changes in employee commuting.
To help ensure successful public outreach during the review of the draft environmental assessment, we developed and published meeting notices and developed public meeting materials. Following public release of the draft environmental assessment, the Navy received only minimal comments expressing public concern of any nature, and the NEPA process successfully concluded with a Finding of No Significant Impact.