Navy seeks to expand Northwest Training Range activities

Peninsula Daily News

HOOD CANAL – The Navy is eying Hood Canal, Puget Sound and 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 Northern California.

The range extends 288 miles out from the coast into the Pacific Ocean, and part of it includes the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

The Navy is preparing a federally required study and environmental impact statement to evaluate the potential effects associated with expanding activities within the range.

The range’s size wouldn’t change.

Navy officials conducted five public meetings earlier this month to get feedback in three Washington cities – Oak Harbor, Pacific Beach and Grays Harbor – and in Depoe Bay, Ore., and Eureka, Calif. The meetings were advertised in the Peninsula Daily News.

“The Navy does approximately 8,000 activities per year now, and they want to increase that to around 13,000,” Navy spokeswoman Sheila Murray said in an interview with The Daily World newspaper in Aberdeen.

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 underwater 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 [off the coast with military aircraft] above 10,000 feet,” Murray said, “most of which are pretty transparent to the public.”

The environmental study process is lengthy and any changes implemented “could take another two years,” Murray said.

Environmental concerns
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

He worries in part about more frequent use of active sonar in inland and coastal waters that can be harmful to whales and other sea life – and increased use of C-4 plastic explosives underwater as part of training.

More than a dozen persons attended the Sept. 10 Oak Harbor meeting, with several expressing concerns about effects on marine wildlife and on commercial fishing and crabbing.

“We know that sonar is a concern and its potential effects on marine mammals,” Rich Melaas with Navy Region Northwest told the meeting.

The Navy will accept written comments on its expansion plans until Saturday, Sept. 29.

Written comments can be submitted to Naval Facilities Engineering Command Northwest, Attn: Kimberly Kler-NWTRC EIS, 1101 Tautog Circle, Suite 203, Silverdale, WA 98315-1101.

Comments can also be submitted online. More information is available at http://www.nwtrangecomplexeis.com

Increased size
According to the Seattle Weekly newspaper, Navy maps indicate the range around Keyport, on the Kitsap Peninsula, could double in size, extending from Liberty Bay near Poulsbo to Bainbridge Island.

In Hood Canal, the Dabob Bay range would be extended to twice its size, stretching from the floating bridge at the mouth of the canal south to near Lilliwaup.

Grays Harbor’s Quinault Range would be greatly expanded, almost 50 miles into the Pacific along the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

Extending the inland and coastal ranges will allow the Navy to close larger portions of open waters to civilian watercraft when necessary.

Currently, the Navy reports, the Quinault Range is closed up to 15 days while sections of Keyport and Hood Canal are closed up to 60 and 130 days, respectively.

In a separate action, the Navy is also proposing to increase the security zone around its major West Coast ammunition arsenal on 2,700-acre Indian Island across from Port Townsend from 500 yards to 1,000 yards.

In a recent notice in the Federal Register, the Navy said more security was needed to prevent accidents, “sabotage and other subversive acts,” as well as “to protect the public from potentially hazardous conditions.”

Also on the security-zone expansion list, the Seattle Weekly noted, are the Navy’s Manchester (Kitsap County) Fuel Depot, the Bremerton Navy Yard, Whidbey Island and the Bangor nuclear sub base on Hood Canal – where the Navy has also proposed using trained dolphins and sea lions to patrol a security perimeter and intercept boaters and swimmers.

Last modified: September 22. 2007 9:00PM

~ by fredfelleman on September 23, 2007.

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