Navy affirms safety of sea life
An impact statement focuses on the Hawaii Range Complex
The Navy says it does not expect to harm marine mammals in Hawaii waters even with increased use of sonar in large-scale training exercises, including possible operations with three aircraft carriers.
Officials have included the possibility of three-carrier war games in a draft environmental impact statement released today involving the Hawaii Range Complex, which covers 270,250 square miles around the main Hawaiian Islands.
Neil Sheehan, Pacific Fleet project officer, said there are no immediate plans to conduct an exercise of the magnitude of next month's Valiant Shield near Guam, which will involve about 22,000 U.S. military personnel, 280 aircraft and 30 ships, including two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and one conventional flattop.
Navy planners merely want the flexibility to conduct such an exercise if the need arises, said Sheehan, who has been working on this environmental issue for the past nine years.
He acknowledged that the most sensitive issue would be the continued use of active sonar, which environmentalists claim has threatened marine mammals like whales and dolphins.
There was no immediate comment from the mainland-based National Resources Defense Council on the draft environmental statement. The council has sued the Navy five times over the issue.
The Navy maintains that there have been no documented cases where its sonar alone killed any marine mammals in the Pacific.
Sheehan notes that a National Marine Fisheries Service investigation into the 2004 mass stranding of melon-headed whales in Hanalei Bay, Kauai, never unequivocally determined that sonar was the cause.
The agency's report acknowledged that active-sonar transmission was "a plausible, if not likely, contributing factor in what may have been a confluence of events."
Sheehan said the preferred alternative laid out in the environmental statement includes what he considers the minimum mitigation efforts Navy crews and ships would be required to do when a marine mammal is sighted. These are similar to the rules the Navy and foreign warships participating in last year's Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC, naval war games were required to follow.
These rules included posting lookouts during the exercise and the use of only passive sonar when a marine mammal is seen within 200 yards of a vessel. Sightings of whales or dolphins also required sonar operators to power down their equipment.
Sheehan said the Navy could accept the draft EIS by next May with final regulations for sonar in place before next summer's RIMPAC war games.
Sheehan said the Hawaii Range Complex is the first of five range complexes for which the Navy is preparing an environmental impact statement.
Public hearings on the draft EIS will be held throughout the state next month. The public also has until Sept. 17 to submit written comments.
The Navy will hold public hearings next month to gather comments on the draft environmental impact statement for the Hawaii Range Complex.
The hearings will begin at 5 p.m. with an open house where Navy representatives will be available to provide information and answer questions. An overview will be presented at 6 p.m. Public testimony will follow, with each speaker allowed three minutes to make a presentation.
The hearings will be held on:
» Aug. 21 at Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall, 4191 Hardy St. in Lihue.
» Aug. 23 at McKinley High School, 1039 S. King St.
» Aug. 27 at Baldwin High School, 1650 Kaahumanu Ave. in Wailuku.
» Aug. 29 at Waiakea High School at 155 W. Kawili St. in Hilo.
Written comments may be submitted by Sept. 17 to:
Public Affairs Officer
Pacific Missile Range Facility
P.O. Box 128
Kekaha, HI 96752;
or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The draft impact statement is available at www.govsupport.us/hrc.