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Wednesday, March 1, 2000

Suit accuses Navy
of hiding sonar tests’
adverse effects

By Pat Gee


A submarine-detecting sonar device proposed by the Navy has caused whales to flee and has traumatized one swimmer in waters off the island of Hawaii, a lawsuit charges.

A group of environmental and cultural organizations filed suit yesterday in federal court to halt the Navy's preparations to deploy a low-frequency sonar system to detect foreign silent submarines.

The suit charges the Navy has violated environmental laws by spending more than $350,000 over 10 years to test the system before completing an environmental impact statement, though no testing is going on now.

The suit also alleges that the Navy is conducting a biased environmental report, deliberately omitting adverse impacts to the marine life and human.

Lanny Sinkin, a Hilo-based attorney representing the plaintiffs, said the suit is seeking preliminary and permanent injunctions to stop any further deployment of the sonar device until the report is complete and is found to be adequate by the federal court. The suit also seeks to prevent the National Marine Fisheries Service from processing a Navy application for a permit until the Navy complies with environmental laws.

The local and nationally based plaintiffs include the Hawaii County Green Party, Julie Jacobson (a member of the Hawaii County Council), Ocean Mammal Institute, Animal Welfare Institute, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Stop LFAS Worldwide Network, Silent Oceans Trust, Inc., Kohanaiki Ohana, Universal Cetacean Institute, Orca Quest, and Whale Rescue Team.

Sinkin said the Navy's draft report "deliberately leaves out" data from two years ago on such adverse effects as the disappearance of whales from the testing area, and the trauma suffered by a swimmer, who is still experiencing disorientation and other symptoms today.

He said the Navy is violating the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires an environmental impact statement before any major action, and the Endangered Species Act forbidding "irretrievable expenditure of resources." The Navy agreed to prepare the environmental report in 1996 when threatened with a lawsuit by environmental groups.

Four lawsuits filed in 1998 were declared moot by U.S. District Judge Alan Kay, the same judge who will hear the current case, when the Navy stopped testing, Sinkin said. The Navy has 60 days to respond.

John Yoshishige of the Navy public affairs office had no comment, but issued a news release saying the Navy is preparing an environmental impact statement in accordance with federal regulations.

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