SILVERDALE — The U.S. Navy has released a new report to continue training and testing on the North Olympic Peninsula and other sites beyond 2020.
The Navy’s preferred alternative would mean a “slight increase” in military aircraft training in Olympic Military Operations Areas (MOAs) airspace over the West End and Pacific Ocean, Navy Region Northwest spokeswoman Julianne Stanford said.
Olympic Military Operations Areas A and B cover parts of western Clallam, Jefferson and Grays Harbor counties.
The proposed supplement to the 2015 Northwest Training and Testing environmental impact statement (EIS) reassesses potential impacts from ongoing military readiness activities within a broad study area.
“These activities continue to include the use of active sound navigation and ranging, known as sonar, and explosives while employing marine species mitigation measures,” Navy officials said in a news release.
“Proposed activities are similar to those conducted in the study area for decades and analyzed in the 2015 document.”
The Navy is accepting public comments on the draft through May 28.
Comments can be submitted online at www.nwtteis.com, at public meetings or mailed to Naval Facilities Engineering Command Northwest Attention: NWTT Supplemental EIS/OEIS Project Manager, 3730 N. Charles Porter Ave., Building 385, Oak Harbor, WA 98278-3500.
The Navy will conduct an open house-style public meeting on the proposal in Port Angeles from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. April 26.
The meeting will be at the Naval Elks Lodge, 131 E. First St., Port Angeles. Seven other meetings will be held in Washington, Oregon, California and Alaska.
The 1,784-page, two-volume draft supplemental EIS/OEIS is available for public review online at www.NWTTEIS.com.
Hard copies are available at the Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Port Hadlock and Forks libraries.
The unchanged “study area” includes the Strait of Juan de Fuca and other inland waters of Western Washington and a large offshore region more than 12 nautical miles off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and Northern California.
It includes Naval Magazine Indian Island in East Jefferson County and special military operations airspace that extends from the Pacific Ocean into parts of western Clallam, Jefferson and Grays Harbor counties.
The purpose of the proposal is to “conduct training and testing activities to ensure the Navy can accomplish its mission to maintain, train and equip combat-ready naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression, and maintaining freedom of the seas,” Navy officials said.
The purpose has not changed from the 2015 Northwest Training and Testing Final Environmental Impact Statement/Overseas Environmental Impact Statement (EIS/OEIS).
“In the draft supplemental EIS/OEIS, the Navy evaluated new, relevant information, such as more recent marine mammal density data and new scientific information, and updated the environmental analyses as appropriate,” Navy officials said.
“The Navy prepared the draft supplemental EIS/OEIS to support the issuance of federal regulatory permits and authorizations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.”
The increase in flights under the Navy’s preferred alternative, or Alternative A, would be slight, Stanford said.
“The number of military flights in this area fluctuates from year to year due to a number of factors,” Stanford said in an email to the Peninsula Daily News.
“The current average is about 2,224 flights per year transiting to and from the Olympic MOAs. The analysis for Alternative 1 shows an increase of 300 aircraft flights per year transiting to and from the Olympic MOAs, which averages out to less than one additional flight per day based on a 365-day year.”
Stanford said that Navy flights over the region do not occur daily and that “very few” occur on weekends.
“Within the Olympic MOAs, approximately 95 percent of Navy training flight time occurs at altitudes at or above 10,000 feet above mean sea level,” she added.
Under the new proposal, some of the Navy’s sonar activities increase while others decrease or stay the same.
“The Navy’s analysis indicates that over 99.9 percent of the modeled marine animal exposures that could potentially occur from readiness activities would be non-injurious and behavioral disturbance only,” Stanford said.
“Based on extensive analysis in the supplemental EIS/OEIS, no marine mammal mortalities are predicted to result from sonar use or from any other training or testing activities in the study area,” she added.
A much-debated component of the 2015 EIS/OEIS was electronic warfare, training exercises that link Naval Air Station Whidbey Island radar-jamming EA-6B Prowler jets with camper-sized vehicles emitting electromagnetic signals from remote ridges in Olympic National Forest.
Electronic warfare is not proposed to change under the Navy’s supplemental draft.
“This mission is to degrade the enemy’s ability to use electronic systems, such as communication systems and radar, and to confuse or deny them the ability to defend their forces and assets,” Stanford said.
“Electronic warfare is also used to detect enemy threats and counter their attempts to degrade the electronic capabilities of the U.S. military.
She added: “Typical electronic warfare activities include threat avoidance training, signals analysis for intelligence purposes, and use of airborne and surface electronic jamming devices that block or interfere with other devices to defeat tracking, navigation, and communications systems.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].
Executive Editor Leah Leach contributed to this report.