Navy's Seal Beach Station Is Too Small For Its Growing Role

Apr 7, 2016

As the U.S. Navy pivots its resources to the West Coast in an attempt to counter Chinese ambitions in the Pacific Ocean, an increasingly relevant weapons outpost in Orange County could get a major overhaul.

A public meeting on a proposed expansion of the Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach is scheduled for Thursday. 

The base is a stopping point for cruisers, destroyers and smaller ships headed for deployment in the West Pacific. They moor in the wharf for up to three days to on-load ammunition on their way out to sea and again to offload on their return. 

When a San Diego-based warship shoots a Tomahawk missile in combat, it's likely that missile was loaded at Seal Beach.

And as more of those ships and munitions move from the east coast to the west coast, the increased traffic could overwhelm the Seal Beach facility.

With that in mind, the Navy wants to essentially double the ammunition loading infrastructure already in place—allowing Seal Beach to host either two destroyer-sized warships (about 500 feet long) simultaneously, or one single amphibious assault ship (about 850 feet long).

Three plans are currently under consideration. One would involve simply elongating the existing wharf structure, while the others would create a pier extending perpendicularly from the shore. Two of them involve creating a new offshore breakwater, which has raised concerns of possible beach erosion and effects on surf conditions.

The Navy also says the current facility, built in the 1950s, isn't up to current building codes and needs replacement. 

The project would "rectify the deficiencies that we currently have in our ammunition handling wharf," said Gregg Smith, a Navy spokesman for the base. 

Mark Delaplaine of the California Coastal Commission said the monitoring agency has had preliminary talks with the Navy, but hasn't evaluated the proposals yet.

"It's too early to be thinking about how we might feel about a particular alternative or whether it's even a good idea," he said. 

Seal Beach Council Member Ellery Deaton said the city is a full participant in expansion talks.

The Navy "came out to us early and tried to get us involved in this before they go out for their environmental analysis," she said, adding that Seal Beach "is a Navy town."

Deaton said environmental analysis, which could take a year or more to complete, could begin this summer.