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CA Appeals Court Upholds Most Sonar Restriction

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California Appeals Court Hands Navy Sonar Setback; Supreme Court May be Next – The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday night rejected the Navy’s appeal of restrictions that banned high-powered sonar within 12 nautical miles of the coast and set other limits that could affect Navy training exercises to begin this month. One of the key measures upheld by the court was the maintenance of a 2200-yard safety zone, with sonar being shut down if a whale enters that radius; the Navy called for a 200-yard shut-down zone, with power-reductions starting only when a whale came within 1000 yards. Navy commanders suggest the expanded radius will cause disruptions to training, necessitating shut downs five times as often. The appeals court closely analyzed Navy documents, and suggested that marine mammal monitoring information from the six exercises (out of 14 weeklong missions currently planned) indicate that the 2200-yard safety zone would have only led to 21 extra shut-down in total, or two to three per week of training. They also noted that the Australian Navy maintains a 4400-yard safety zone. The Navy received a key concession from the court, however: for planned training sessions beginning this week, and another set of missions later in the month, the Navy can maintain sonar transmissions if a whale enters the 2200-yard zone during a “critical point” in the training. This temporary stay on the new rules is meant to give the Navy time to take its case to the Supreme Court before subsequent trainings. While the Navy maintains that restrictions beyond its own safety measures–including reducing sonar sound levels and prohibiting transmissions in certain ocean conditions that may increase impacts on marine mammals–will hamper their ability to certify crews for overseas deployment, the appeals panel said it reviewed “with the utmost care” the Navy’s classified affidavits on such issues and concluded that the proposed additional measures “will not likely compromise the Navy’s ability to effectively train and certify its West Coast strike groups.” Sources: LA Times, 3/2/08 [READ ARTICLE] San Francisco Chronicle, 3/2/08 [READ ARTICLE] Navy News Service, 3/3/08 [READ ARTICLE] [See AEI Special Report: Active Sonars]

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