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SoCal Sonar Draft EIS: Navy Sticks to its Approach

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Navy Releases Southern California Sonar Draft EIS, Proposals Fall Short of Court Orders – The Navy has released its long-planned Draft Environmental Impact Statement on offshore training exercises in Southern California, including the use of mid-frequency active sonar. Recent legal challenges to the Navy training, in which a circuit court judge imposed additional restrictions on use and an appeals court upheld the ruling, have been based on both the Navy’s previous lack of comprehensive environmental analysis, and on the standing of the California Coastal Commission to impose its own restrictions beyond those imposed by the federal National Marine Fisheries Service. The DEIS continues to make the case that the Navy’s existing operational procedures, developed in consort with NMFS, provide adequate protection to marine life; California state officials and laywers told the press that they are likely to challenge the final EIS if additional safety measures are not added. One such court-ordered restriction, a 12-mile coastal buffer zone free of sonar, was addressed by Capt. Neil May of the Navy’s 3rd Fleet in San Diego, who said the coastal buffer would block ships from using sonar when helping the Marine Corps practice landings on the beaches of Camp Pendleton. To make such exercises more realistic, he said, the Navy would like submarines to try to sneak up on the expeditionary strike groups. “We will push back on anything that inhibits realistic training or strays from science,” May said. Comments on the DEIs will be accepted through May 19. This is one of several regional EISs that the Navy is aiming to complete during 2008 and 2009. Sources: LATimes, 4/4/08 [READ ARTICLE] [NAVY SOCAL RANGE COMPLEX WEBSITE] Related: Hawaii Restrictions Frustrate Navy – After conducting a series of training exercises in which recent court-ordered restrictions were followed, the Navy expressed concern that such restrictions would hamper training if imposed permanently. “[The court order] adds up to a very complicated situation that forces the sailors aboard those ships to devote more time and attention to marine mammal issues than to the anti-submarine warfare training that’s the point of the exercise,” said Capt. W. Scott Gureck, a spokesman for U.S. Pacific Fleet. Paul Achitoff, an Earthjustice attorney representing several groups that sued the Navy over sonar use in Hawaii waters, questioned the Navy’s claim, noting that “There are a bunch of vessels in each exercise, so you’ve probably got 1,000 personnel out there on the water, and probably only about six of them have to even think about marine mammals, or maybe 10, or whatever, and the rest of them are doing completely other things,” Achitoff said. “So the [Navy] statement is absurd on its face.” The training impact of other additional safety measures, more substantial than manpower devoted to observing whales, including larger zones in which sonar must be powered down, were not addressed by either side in the exchange. Source: Honolulu Advertiser, 3/31/08

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