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Navy meeting is on environmental impacts of testing, training

November 5, 2017 GMT

LIHUE — The Navy is taking another look at how training exercises are affecting the Pacific environment, and a meeting is set for Wednesday in Lihue to talk about it.

The Navy is updating the 2013 Environmental Impact Statement/Overseas Environmental Impact Statement (EIS/OEIS) with new data on marine mammal density and other new information.

It’s a federally required document that outlines dangers that Navy activities pose to protected animal life in training areas, and mitigations to those threats.

And with the number of endangered species — both marine and terrestrial — on and around Kauai, community leaders and conservationists are paying attention as the Navy goes through the EIS/OEIS process.

Gordon LaBedz, of the whale conservation group Kohola Leo, said he never misses a Navy EIS meeting because he gains valuable information from the sessions.

“You get to talk one-on-one to the civilian consultants who advise the Navy,” LaBedz said. “These folks are quite knowledgeable and straightforward.”

But he thinks the document is a waste of time and money.

“It tells us very little about what the Navy plans to do,” LaBedz said. “All the activities at Kauai PMRF (Pacific Missile Range Facility) are confidential war research.”

With the events being described in basic and general terms, LaBedz said, the public never really knows what the Navy is doing.

Terry Lilley, who has spent thousands of hours underwater documenting marine life around Kauai, said he thinks the Navy isn’t following the federal process strictly enough and needs more paperwork.

The Navy needs to complete a Habitat Conservation Plan and get an Incidental Take Permit from the federal government, in addition to completing an EIS/OEIS, he says.

“The U.S. Endangered Species Act is very clear. If anyone wished to have an action in the habitat of endangered species that has the likelihood of altering the habitat of those endangered species, then they must do a federal environmental study before that action takes place,” Lilley said. “That study is called a Habitat Conservation Plan.”

Lilley won’t be on island for the Nov. 8 meeting and is electronically submitting his comments on the EIS/OEIS to the Navy, he said.

Makaala Kaaumoana, with the Hanalei Watershed Hui and the Conservation Council for Hawaii, has been paging through the 2,800-page EIS/OEIS, and plans to submit comments in some form to the Navy.

Kapaa marine biologist Katherine Muzik is also paging through the document, and plans to attend this week’s meeting to learn more.

Changes included

The update to the 2013 EIS/OEIS only has a few changes from the current document, but there are a few changes in the draft 2017 EIS/OEIS.

It includes improved acoustic models and updated marine mammal and sea turtle densities, as well as updated marine species criteria and thresholds.

The draft 2017 EIS/OEIS provides an analysis of anti-submarine warfare activities, resulting in reduced levels of active sonar and fewer hours of sources of underwater sound, according to a Navy summary of the EIS.

Also included is an analysis of increases in testing of some new vessels, aircraft, weapons systems and unmanned vehicles, as well as increases in training for maritime security operations like drug interdiction and anti-piracy operations.

Lilley said he’s seen these unmanned vehicles and documented their activities that he says are killing coral reefs at Nualolo, Milolii and Salt Pond.

“The Navy is developing an underwater drone squadron and using plasma energy, microwaves, lasers, high-voltage electronics and other forms of electromagnetic energy underwater along the Kauai, Niihau and Lehua coastlines,” Lilley said.

Robert Purdy, spokesman for PMRF, said the Navy is committed to being good stewards of the environment and to protecting marine species while training and testing activities are ongoing.

“Whenever the Navy trains with and/or tests active sonar or explosives analyzed in the draft EIS/OEIS, it employs protective measures that have been coordinated with the National Marine Fisheries service,” Purdy said.

Those measures include things such as:

w Using Marine Species Awareness trained lookouts to search for marine mammals and sea turtles in the vicinity of training/testing events.

w Reducing power or shutting off active sonar transmissions when marine mammals get within a predetermined safety range.

w Establishing protective safety zones around detonations and ships using sonar.

w Maneuvering vessels to avoid close interactions with marine mammals/endangered species.

w Using aerial surveys and/or passive acoustic monitoring for marine mammals during some training and testing activities.

The Navy also invests in research on how marine species respond to Navy training and testing, Purdy said. That figure is to the tune of more than $ 1 million a year for research in Hawaii alone.

In addition to the guidelines and protective measures during test and training, PMRF is also the site where a significant amount of research is conducted on the effects of sound on marine mammals, according to Purdy.

“The Navy uses the instrumented hydrophone range to record marine mammals for its monitoring program,” he said.

“It is also the site where independent researchers conduct small-boat surveys for marine mammals and use tags and photo identification to better understand the marine mammal populations in this area.”

The Lihue meeting to discuss the draft EIS/OEIS is set for Wednesday at the Kauai Veterans Center from 4 to 8 p.m.

Public comments are being accepted through Dec. 12, and comments will be accepted at the Nov. 8 meeting.

Comments may be submitted online at www.hstteis.com or through the mail to: Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific, Attention: HSTT EIS/OEIS Project Manager, 258 Makalapa Drive, Suite 100, Pearl Harbor, HI 96860-3134.

View the draft EIS/OEIS at www.hstteis.com.