Army officials said they would stop the testing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord if any monitors register 130 decibels, a level that can cause harm to humans.
The Army began three days of rocket test firings Tuesday at Joint Base Lewis-McChord to determine the noise they generate at nearby Nisqually Indian Tribe lands and other locations away from the base.
The Army currently conducts artillery and other live-fire training at JBLM, and is considering moving some of the training of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) to the Western Washington base from a site near Yakima.
The Nisqually Indian Tribe opposes shifting the training to JBLM, and the tests this week are designed to measure the noise that the reduced-range test rockets — which do not carry explosives — generate as they are fired.
“While we have had a good relationship with JBLM over the years, we have been opposed to this from the beginning and we’re still asking questions about why this is being moved from Yakima where there are few people being affected, to here, where our community is going to be affected,” Nisqually Tribal Chairman Farron McCloud said in a written statement.
On Tuesday, when 12 rockets were scheduled for firing, the noise varied greatly depending on one’s location.
At one site on a tribal-owned farm several miles northwest of the launch area, a fiery streak was visible low on the horizon during a midmorning test firing. But the sound was rather low and muffled.
In another area, miles to the south, the test rockets generated loud booms that rumbled up the Nisqually River Valley.
“It’s a new sound, a different sound than we are used to hearing, and we’re going to evaluate what it all means,” said David Trout, natural resources director for the Nisqually Indian Tribe.
Army officials said they would stop the testing if any monitors register 130 decibels, a level that can cause harm to humans.
JLBM officials Tuesday did not have sound levels available to release from the day’s testing. But they said there were no reports of any off-site noise reaching 130 decibels.
Trout said an Army testing official told a tribal employee the first morning rocket registered 120 decibels at a tribal fish-hatchery site near the base.
Trout said the tribe is concerned about the effects of noise on people and wildlife.
At the hatchery, Trout said 1.2 million chinook salmon eggs were fertilized Monday. They will be monitored to see if the eggs exposed to the rocket firing have increased mortality.
“The first 48 hours are a critical time for them,” Trout said.
The 17th Field Artillery Brigade now trains on the rocket system at Yakima Training Center. The Army has proposed moving the training to JBLM to reduce travel costs and make it easier for soldiers to gain certification on the rocket system.
Joe Piek, a JBLM spokesman, said the decision on whether to shift the training is still off in the future. He said that any rocket firing at JBLM would be episodic, and not year-round.
The tests had been scheduled for March, but were called off when a HIMARS safety alert indicated there was insufficient tree clearance for the rockets. Since then, a 1-acre cleared area was expanded — through a timber sale and harvest — to a 10-acre cleared area, according to a statement released by JBLM.
“We understand the communities’ interest in these tests, and I can assure you the correct conditions have been set to test fire the HIMARS practice rockets at JBLM,” Col. Daniel Morgan said, also in a written statement.