Hearings this week on Navy’s coastal exercises

By Jordan Kline – Daily World writer

Monday, September 10, 2007 11:20 AM PDT

The U.S. Navy is eyeing the Washington coast for a significant expansion of testing and training exercises, including underwater weapons research and high-frequency sonar.

The Navy wants to increase the level of activity inside the Northwest Training Range Complex, a 126,000-square-mile test range stretching from Neah Bay to California.

It will conduct two public meetings on the Harbor to address concerns about the increased activity. The first will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the fire hall in Pacific Beach; the second will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Grays Harbor College cafeteria in Aberdeen.

“The Navy does approximately 8,000 activities per year now, and they want to increase that to around 13,000,” said Navy spokeswoman Sheila Murray. In addition to the increased coastal operations, the Navy wants to lengthen its Hood Canal, Keyport and Quinault test ranges, Murray said.

Specifics about the increased activity have yet to be released to due security reasons, but Murray said it will bring more air, surface and under-water vessel traffic, as well as testing of under-water weapons, unmanned aerial and submersible vehicles and high-frequency sonar.

“But the majority of the activities will happen above 10,000 feet,” Murray said, “most of which are pretty transparent to the public.”

It’s difficult for experts to suggest methods to mitigate the impact of the Navy’s activity if it’s unclear exactly what they’d like to do, according to Fred Felleman of Seattle, a marine consultant and activist.

“How can the public provide meaningful recommendations if we don’t know what they’re doing in the first place?” he says.

“Classified activities do not drive well with the public disclosure process.”

Felleman is particularly worried about more oil spills and the potential use of active sonar, which can kill marine mammals if used irresponsibly. Submarines have clipped the tow cables of two barges in the last decade, and Felleman said the oil spill response measures are already inadequate for the current level of naval activity.

Increased naval activity isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Felleman said, “but we shouldn’t just have to feel its impact. This is an opportunity for them to contribute to the health of our waters, and secrecy isn’t going to accomplish that.”

“The Navy is committed to mitigating any effects it may have on the marine environment and wildlife,” Murray said. “That’s why we have these scoping meetings.”

Copyright © 2007 The Daily World.
This content may not be archived, retransmitted, saved in a database, or used for any commercial purpose without the express written permission of The Daily World.

~ by fredfelleman on September 10, 2007.

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