Navy accepting final comments on increased training

The Navy is accepting public comment on the final environmental impact statement for expanding training activities for the Pacific Fleet both off the Pacific Coast — in an area that includes the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary — and near Whidbey Island and in Hood Canal.

The public comment period will end Oct. 12.

The proposal would allow the Navy to increase the number of training exercises in the Northwest Training Complex.

Most of the complex is a massive area that extends 250 miles from the coastlines of Washington state, Oregon and northern California.

It also includes areas around Whidbey Island and portions of Hood Canal.

The Pacific Ocean area encompasses 122,400 nautical miles of military air, surface and subsurface space.

The Navy is hoping to increase its current operations in the training range to include a multitude of new activities from the testing of new aircraft and guided missile submarines to the development of an underwater minefield.

“The Navy already is training off the coast,” where most of the activity would be, said Sheila Murray, Navy environmental public affairs officer for the Northwest.

“What it is asking for is to be able to increase the number of activities it can do in that area.”

She said the complex offers sailors realistic training opportunities in their backyard to help them prepare for deployment.

After a three-year process, the Navy released a final report earlier this month.

About 3,000 pages

The report, which is about 3,000 pages, analyzes the effects that two proposed options would have on the environment, and includes more than 1,000 comments received on the draft environmental impact statement and responses to them.

“One whole volume of the EIS is the response to comments,” Murray said.

The assistant secretary of the Navy is expected to make a decision after the comment period ends Oct. 12.

The Pacific Fleet project is different from another Navy proposal in the same area, which is sponsored by the Keyport Naval Undersea Warfare Center.

That proposal, which would allow the Navy to test unmanned underwater vehicles in three test ranges — on Dabob Bay and Hood Canal, and off the Olympic Coast from Kalaloch southward in West Jefferson County — is awaiting authorization from the Secretary of the Navy.

In the Pacific Fleet environmental impact statement, the Navy evaluated two options, both of which would increase training activities and weapons testing in the sea and air in the Northwest Training Range Complex, the principal training ground for units based in Washington state.

The Navy’s preferred option increases activities to the greatest extent of the two options.

Environmentalists have raised concerns about the impact the increased training exercises, including underwater explosions and sonar use, would have on endangered orcas, other whales and marine life.

Others have worried about air quality, water pollution, noise and the effects on commercial fishermen.

Kimberly Kler, one of the project leads for the Navy, said that the proposal includes an increase of 10 tracking exercises for anti-submarine warfare off the Pacific Coast, as well as an increase in the number of exercises using sonar.

Use of sonar

The training exercises using sonar would increase by two, from 24 to 26 annually.

“People have been concerned about the sonar hours” and the effect on marine mammals, Kler said.

The proposal would increase the number of sonar hours from 36 hours per year to 43 hours annually, she said.

Kler said the Navy is in the final process of compliance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act, seeking a permit from the National Fisheries Service for an incidental “take” in the sonar training.

“A ‘take’ doesn’t mean that it is physically harming the animals,” Kler said.

“It means they will hear the source.”

The environmental impact statement charts the possibility of Navy activities affecting such species as whales, sea lions and sea otters.

Sonar may affect blue whales, humpback whales, orca whales and stellar sea lions, among others, the chart says.

Kler said the Navy received an opinion on June 15 from the National Fisheries Service that concluded that sonar likely would adversely affect, but not threaten the continued existence of, endangered and threatened species.

The sonar could affect their path of travel.

Marine sanctuary

Murray said that most of the activity in the area of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary would be in the air.

“There’s not really a lot that happens in the water in the sanctuary,” she said.

George Galasso, assistant superintendent of the sanctuary, said that sanctuary personnel had been concerned about the possibility of expendable material that is not biodegradable being left in the sanctuary after training exercises.

Such materials could include parachutes or “EMATTs” — Expendable Mobile Anti-Submarine Warfare Training Targets, he said.

“We did not come to complete agreement about some of the materials that would be used up in the sanctuary,” Galasso said, “but we did agree to meet on an annual basis to work together to avoid to the maximum extent practicable any adverse impacts on resources in the sanctuary.”

When the sanctuary was formed in 1994, it was within an already-existing Navy training area.

“We do have exemptions from some of our regulations relating to some activities,” Galasso said.

A Navy representative sits on the sanctuary’s council, and sanctuary officials communicate regularly with the Navy on a variety of issues, he said.

“The Navy has a policy that the sanctuary is a no-discharge zone for waste from their vessels, which we appreciate,” Galasso said.

For the full document, see the project’s website at or find a printed version at the Port Townsend Library, 1220 Lawrence St., or the Jefferson County Library, 620 Cedar Ave., Port Hadlock.

Comments on the Navy document can be sent by e-mail through the project’s website or by U.S. mail to Naval Facilities Engineering Command Northwest; 1101 Tautog Circle, Suite 203; Silverdale, WA 98315-1101. Marked mailed comments to the attention of Kler — NWTRC EIS.


Managing Editor/News Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3531 or

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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