Curbs on sonar likely to apply to Hawaii waters
A federal judge has issued a ruling that restricts the Navy's mid-frequency sonar off Southern California's coast.
A federal judge's rigid restrictions on the Navy's use of midfrequency sonar off the coast of Southern California are certain to reverberate in Hawaii waters. The judge's ruling sets a precedent for marine mammal protections that could restrain the use of sonar in Rim of the Pacific exercises in the Hawaii Range Complex around the main Hawaiian Islands.
The ruling was issued by U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper, who had ordered a two-year solar ban in August off the California coast after blocking the use of sonar during the 2006 RIMPAC exercises in Hawaii waters. The Navy has had plans to accept an environmental impact statement in May and have final rules in place before this summer's RIMPAC war games.
Those plans might be in limbo. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a Navy spokesman, said Navy officials are "considering our next steps" in the case. "Despite the care the court took, we do not believe it struck the right balance between national security and environmental concerns."
Navy lawyers said it tried several measures to mitigate the problem during the Hawaii exercises but abandoned them "because of their ineffectiveness and undue burden on Navy training." The Navy did not prepare an environmental statement for its exercises off California's coast.
Cooper banned the use of sonar within 12 nautical miles of the California coast and expanded the Navy's proposed area where solar must be turned off. She also required monitoring for the presence of mammals for an hour before exercises begin and the posting of two National Marine Fisheries Service-trained lookouts during the exercises.
Navy officials now must apply those conditions to the Hawaii exercises before deciding to comply or go ahead with its plans for the environmental statement while awaiting an appeal of Cooper's ruling.
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