8 January 2010
Navy discusses potential environmental effects from training activities
Kodiak residents fear training harms marine life and fishermen
Kodiak Daily Mirror


The Navy held a public hearing and review of the Gulf of Alaska Navy Training Activities Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Overseas Environmental Impact Statement (EIS/OEIS) Thursday evening at Kodiak High School.

Information presented assessed the potential effects on the environment from current and ongoing Navy training activities, and the potential increase in those effects with future training the Navy would like to implement.

Kodiak community members were able to give written statements and oral statements that were recorded by a Navy court reporter.

Of the six Kodiak residents to give an oral testimony, only one was for the continued and increased Navy training. Others cited harm to marine environment, animals and fishermen.

Theresa Peterson, who works with the Alaska Marine Conservation Council (AMCC) and is a member of a fishing family, was concerned about the potential increase in Navy presence in the Gulf of Alaska.

�Particularly of concern are the effects of underwater noise on living marine resources,� Peterson said. �Especially noise resulting from the use of sonar in this productive and important marine environment.�

She said AMCC supports the no action alternative, one of three alternatives the Navy may choose.

This alternative would maintain current training activities that do not involve the use of active sonar. Currently this includes one annual Carrier Strike Group training exercise of up to 14 days in the summer. The no action alternative also provides an opportunity to assess the potential environmental effects of the other alternatives.

The second alternative, alternative one, would increase the duration of the current summer exercises from 14 days to 21, and include the use of active sonar during anti-submarine warfare training exercises. There also would be new ships, submarines, aircraft weapon systems and training instrumentation put into use.

Some of the new pieces of equipment and vessels include a guided missile submarine and a portable undersea tracking range.

Alternative two, the last alternative, is the Navy�s preferred alternative because it fully supports required Navy and joint training activities. The Navy also would have the greatest amount of flexibility to carry out its training missions in Alaska.

This alternative includes all elements of alternative one, and allows for a second Carrier Strike Group training exercise of up to 21 days for a possible total of 42 days of training in the summer. It also allows a maximum of two sinking exercises.

Peterson said alternative one and two would have dramatic changes in the acoustic marine environment inside and adjacent to the Navy�s operating area.

�That could have significant impacts on the marine mammals inhabiting these waters,� she said. �Critical habitat for the North Pacific right whale, the world�s most endangered whale, is located directly adjacent to the training area.�

Also of concern is the impact the Navy training could have on Kodiak�s fishing industry.

�The draft EIS is lacking robust analyses regarding potential impacts to the halibut and the halibut fishery,� Peterson said. �It includes no discussion or map showing the major halibut regulatory area that directly overlaps the training area, nor does it discuss halibut habitat in the area.�

She also said it lacks information about salmon migratory routes in the Gulf of Alaska.

�There is not a thorough assessment of the overlap with fishing areas,� Peterson said. �The conclusion that there will be no socio and economic impacts from the proposed action, including fishing, is impossible to predict without comprehensive answers. It is probable that the Navy underestimates the number of marine animals and fish that will be harassed, injured and killed because it simply does not have the density estimates needed in order to accurately make this determination.�

Navy Cmdr. Vic Weber said training in the Gulf of Alaska is of great importance.

�The proximity of personnel resources and equipment within a few hundred miles of the Gulf of Alaska allows for joint training opportunities for the Navy forces,� Weber said.

He also said the vast area of the training space provides a full range of training activities and the oceanographic conditions create a challenging environment for search and detection submarine and anti-submarine warfare training.

�To meet our mission the Navy must conduct its training activities in a realistic, live training environment,� Weber said. �Realistic training assures Navy personnel maintain the highest level readiness and capability.�

He also said the Navy takes the necessary steps to make sure the environment isn�t harmed.

�While fulfilling our mission to train sailors, protecting the environment is a priority,� Weber said. �The Navy is committed to protecting the physical and natural environment and has established a successful track record of environmental stewardship while meeting our mission.�

He said the Navy implements protective measures on land and at sea to reduce potential effects on the terrestrial marine environment and to ensure public safety and accessibility.

Alex Stone, the project manager of the Gulf of Alaska draft EIS, said the Navy evaluated the potential effects of the alternatives on the marine, natural and human environments.

�The Navy took a comprehensive approach in assessing the potential effects on 14 different resource areas,� Stone said. �While preparing the EIS the Navy scientists analyzed the potential effects of sound in the water on marine life including the marine mammals, sea turtles, fish, birds and marine vertebrates.�

He said results from the analysis indicate there is a possibility for physiological effects on marine mammals. Behavior effects also were predicted, but he pointed out this is before protective measures are used.

�These results do not consider the use of protective measures which reduce the likelihood of these predicted exposures,� Stone said.

Public comment can be submitted to the Navy until Jan. 25 via e-mail and snail mail. Visit http://www.gulfofalaskanavyeis.com/GetInvolved.aspx for more information.

The next phase will be the preparation of the final EIS/OEIS that will take place from January until the fall. It will then be released to the public in the fall, and a 30-day public review period will follow. The record of decision will be in December 2010.

Global Network