A final environmental impact statement on the Navy’s plans to increase at-sea training off the East Coast is available for the public’s review.
The Navy released the EIS report for the Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing area, which includes waters off the coast of North Carolina, Aug. 30 following a process that began three years ago and included public comment periods and informational meetings that included local sessions.
The plan would roughly double training capacity in the ATFF region, but that doesn’t mean twice the amount of training activities will take place.
Mary Gardner of Swansboro attended a public hearing the Navy held in Swansboro last year to provide information about the plans and with the release of the final report, she’s not pleased to hear such training will be taking place.
She’s concerns about the impact depth charges and sonar will have on whales, dolphins and other marine animals as well as damage to the ocean floor.
Gardner believes training can be accomplished through simulation.
“I don’t think we need any more destruction of the ocean floor,” she said.
But there are plans for new and increased levels of training. Under the preferred alternative, the planned training activities include:
n Conducting additional surface-to-surface, surface-to-air and anti-submarine warfare activities during post-delivery test and trial and during training;
- An increase in air combat maneuver events in the Key West Range Complex
- Introduction of surface ships outfitted with kinetic energy weapon capability, and training for this new weapon system;
- Performance of additional training with unmanned vehicles in support of mine warfare and of civilian port defense missions in commercial and civilian ports. Events would occur at various East Coast and Gulf of Mexico locations.
These and other activities involve the use of explosives and active sonar. Potential impacts of these on marine mammal populations have been a primary concern expressed in public meetings.
The report summary notes that there will be an increase in cumulative impacts from past, present and future training but says they remain low compared to other human causes, such as commercial vessel ship strikes, entanglement, ocean pollution and bycatch.
Navy officials have said the impacts will most likely be temporary behavioral changes.
“The Navy’s analysis indicates that while large numbers of marine mammals may be affected by sonar and explosives activities, over 99.9 percent of the animals affected will experience only temporary behavioral effects that do not result in injury,” said Navy Rear Adm. Kevin Slates, director of the Chief of Naval Operation Energy and Environmental Readiness Division, in a news release announcing the release of the EIS documents.
The EIS comes in advance of the Navy applying for Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act permits from regulatory agencies to authorize it to continue training in the area from 2014 to 2019.
The full report can be viewed online at aftteis.com.
Jannette Pippin is a reporter for the Daily News in Jacksonville.