Octopus, seals, starfish and other animals swim and crawl through the waters surrounding USS Nimitz (CVN 68) as she sits pier side waiting patiently, for Sailors and contractors to overhaul her, while she undergoes an extended planned incremental maintenance availability (EPIA). Her 1,115-foot long flight deck is sporadically covered in makeshift workshops and construction equipment, and Sailors and civilians alike hustle about diligently working to get the ship back to sea. All the while, large amounts of trash and outdated equipment are carried off of the ship for disposal on a daily basis.
As we observe Earth Day 2016, it is important to remember how Nimitz has been leading the charge and focusing on how the ship’s crew can create an environmentally friendly and sustainable working environment while in the shipyards.
Nimitz’ mission while at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS) is to get repaired and go back out to sea as soon as possible. This mission can’t be accomplished without the help of the civilians who help repair the ship and properly contain waste.
Nimitz continues to face unique challenges during her time in EPIA, due to various ecosystems surrounding the ship, a dense human population along the waterfront and various types of hazardous and non-hazardous materials, all with strict regulations for how they are disposed.
“Earth day is important to raise awareness so that we can see the impact on how we are affecting the environment,” said Lt. j.g. Magnus Perkins, the industrial health officer onboard Nimitz. “We can focus in on what we’re doing consciously to help, or subconsciously to hurt the environment. It’s a day to focus on those things; that’s why it’s important.”
While Nimitz is in the shipyard, Sailors have to take a different approach on keeping industrial waste contained.
“For the Navy, we have things all over the water: ships, bases and subs,” said Perkins. “Here in the shipyard, we have industrial activities that involve oils, grease, and various chemicals that can possibly spill into the water. We need to make sure those things don’t happen. We’re all Sailors and we love going out to sea. We have to keep it from deteriorating so that we can use our beautiful coastlines that we’re trying to protect.”
In an industrial setting, being aware of environmental safety is an ongoing caution that should be in both Sailors’ and civilian shipyard workers’ heads. Being aware of the environment can help the ecosystem for both the surrounding animals and ourselves.
“This water here, the Puget Sound, it’s an incredible natural resource,” said Ron Hampton, PSNS Code 400 environmental, safety and health manager. “It provides food for a tremendous amount of people, like the surrounding population and even the world. A lot of things that we farm here, like salmon, aren’t just staying in Washington State. If we’re putting something like heavy metals into the water, those heavy metals are being absorbed by the fish and eventually it’ll make a way back into us, which in turn is going to make us unhealthy.”
Protecting the water by being aware of hazards can help preserve not only the local ecosystem, but also the local economy.
“If we’re not aware, we’re affecting the animals and the environment,” said Perkins. “On the other hand, we’re also affecting any of the fisheries or anyone who has his or her lifestyle set on the coast. We have tons of fisheries out there and if we’re polluting the water, their harvest is going to be bad and so is our economy.”
The proper disposal of hazardous materials and trash are key components for keeping the surrounding bodies of water clean. Nimitz’s methods of disposal are set on being both environmentally safe as well as economical for the command.
“We’re creating new controls that have never been done in a shipyard in order to make sure that nothing is going into the water,” said Perkins. “On the pier we have different types of bins for everything, from man-made fibers to metals, so that we can dispose of things properly and reuse them as well. We do a lot of work to ensure that we’re being environmentally friendly and even economic as well. Being environmentally friendly and economic go hand in hand.”
Waste on the pier is monitored thoroughly and the regulation of its disposal is a major aspect when in the shipyard compared to when Nimitz is out to sea. When ships are out to sea, nature’s elements have different effects on pollutants in the water.
“Out to sea things disperse more and can deteriorate with the increased UV light,” said Perkins. “When you’re on the coastline, without the dispersion from the currents, things pile up, and you can’t have that happen. That’s one of the biggest issues we have here in the industrial site as opposed to out to sea.”
In an industrial site, there are many chaotic things going on such as pneumatic tools, various engines and turbines running. With so much activity, Nimitz Sailors have a lot to keep track of. This is one example of how civilians working hand in hand with Nimitz Sailors help speed up the process of the time in EPIA.
For PSNS, the civilian side of the pier’s environmental protection organization is Code 103. Code 103 is in charge of regulating and creating new ways to dispose waste, keep waste out of the water and air, and the overall enforcement of the permits that the shipyard possess.
“We only have one Earth, so we have to take care of it,” said Hampton. “That’s what Earth Day is all about. Anytime we can develop processes to reduce our carbon footprint, it’s huge.”
When the shipyard contractors are out working everyday down in the reactors of the ship, or all the way up on the flight deck, they often work hand in hand with Sailors. Some even have a connection to Nimitz and its mission.
“You’re talking to a 27-year-old Navy veteran,” said Hampton. “Nimitz is a national asset, so if you’re asking about national pride, you’re not going to find another degree of it than the people who work here in the shipyard. This is what we do. We bring it in, repair it and get it back to sea. So, how does that make us feel? Pretty darn good.”
While Nimitz is tied to the pier, Sailors are flushing out systems, replacing fluids in tanks, and scraping paint off of the skin of the ship. As long as those hazardous materials continue being contained in a safe manner, surrounding ecosystems of the PSNS can continue on living a healthy lifestyle within their natural habitat. Spreading awareness about environmental safety and following policies that are in place are important to giving the Navy reassurance that the coasts that they protect stay pristine.
Story by MCSN Erickson Magno