Navy Wants to Extend Testing Ranges for Underwater Vehicles

Something to bring up at the Sanctuary Hearings. Fred

kitsapsun.com

Navy Wants to Extend Testing Ranges for Underwater Vehicles

The biggest change would be on the Pacific coast, where much more space would become available for testing underwater vehicles.

By Ed Friedrich

efriedrich@kitsapsun.com

@TEXT Dateline:KEYPORT

The Navy wants to extend its Washington state ranges so that Naval Underwater Warfare Center at Keyport can adequately test manned and unmanned underwater vehicles.

As world threats change, the Navy is more likely to operate submarines near the shore instead of deep at sea, lending more importance to underwater vehicles that can sniff out mines, monitoring devices and vessels.

“They’re out there searching for information that can help keep our sailors out of harm’s way,” Keyport spokeswoman Diane Jennings said of the evolving reconnaissance and surveillance vehicles.

The Navy is conducting an environmental review to: extend its Keyport range from 1.5 square nautical miles to 3.2 and the average number of days it would be used each year from 55 to 60; enlarge the Dabob Bay range from 32.7 square nautical miles to 45.7 with no increase in the 200-day annual use; and expand the Quinault range in the Pacific Ocean from 48.3 square nautical miles to 1,840, including a new 7.8-square-nautical-mile surf zone at Pacific Beach. The average annual use offshore would increase from 14 to 16 days and testing in the surf would occur an average of 30 days per year.

Four public hearings have been scheduled for this week. They’ll be Wednesday at the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, Thursday at North Mason High School, Monday at Grays Harbor Fire District No. 8, and Oct. 7 at the Quilcene School multipurpose room. Each will begin with an open house from 5 to 6:30 p.m., followed by a public hearing at 7 p.m. Comments can be made verbally or in writing. The deadline is Oct. 27.

The ranges are rarely closed to recreational use, and that isn’t expected to change, Jennings said.

“We don’t close off areas,” she said. “We maintain access. When people look out on the bay they might see a small boat, they’ll see Navy craft, see us launching or retrieving something, see divers exiting or getting into the water. We’re just a spot on the horizon.”

The ranges are in the Port Orchard Reach near Keyport, on Hood Canal’s Dabob Bay between Toandos Peninsula and Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, and on the coast of Washington near Kalaloch.

The Navy analyzed potential effects of the proposal in a number of areas — marine animals, plants, upland wildlife, water quality and public health and safety to name a few.

It found no significant problems that can’t be mitigated — except for exposing marine mammals to underwater sound. It has asked the National Marine Fisheries Service to allow for instances when marine mammals might be injured or killed. But a Navy analysis has determined that there would be no permanent injuries or fatalities to the animals, Jennings said.

Spotters would make sure none were around before an exercise could begin and would keep an eye out for them during the exercises.

“Our range operators are trained by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists on the identification of marine mammals,” Jennings said. “As part of our operating procedures, we are on a constant lookout for the presence of any marine mammals.”

As underwater vehicles evolve, a larger area is needed to test them, Jennings said. The devices, some of which are already deployed and others that are being developed, can be hand-held and launched over the side of a boat, or the size of torpedoes and fired from submarine torpedo tubes. One looks like an underwater plane, another crawls in the shallows and onto beaches.

“They can run up to 72 hours, so we need more space,” she said.

The three ranges provide different sea states, such as salinity, which can affect the buoyancy of vehicles when they’re retrieved.

“The goal is to test them in environments that are like the environments they are operating in,” Jennings said.

The draft EIS/OEIS is posted at www-keyport.kpt.nuwc.navy.mil. Written comments can be addressed to Kimberly Kler, Naval Facilities Command, 1101 Tautog Circle, Suite 203, Silverdale, 98315-1101 or faxed to her at (360) 396-0857.

This story has been changed since its original version to clarify that a Navy analysis has determined that there would be no permanent injuries or fatalities of marine mammals.

E.W. Scripps Co.
© 2007 Kitsap Sun

~ by fredfelleman on September 30, 2008.

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