NEWPORT — Representatives from the Navy stopped in Newport on their way to California on a tour of the West Coast meant to gather public input from coastal communities and inform those communities about updates to Navy testing and training on the Pacific Ocean.
The new changes yet to be implemented could include active use of sound navigation and ranging, or sonar, and using explosives while trying to “employ marine species mitigation measures,” according to an informational booklet distributed at Tuesday’s open house.
Additional changes the Navy is pushing for include increasing the amount of aircraft flights per year by 300 flights in Olympic Military Operations Areas off of Washington. Introduction of new vessels, aircraft and weapons systems into the fleet are also on the table.
The efforts to keep the public in the loop, especially along this stretch of the coast, is part of the Navy’s plan to involve those in many coastal communities in updates to the military branch’s new training and testing methods.
“The purpose is the Navy needs to train and test, and we’re preparing an environmental impact statement to analyze potential impacts associated with training and testing activities,” said Karen Waller, who works for the Navy environmental impact statement team. “We are supplementing a 2015 environmental impact statement, but we still go through the same process to prepare that.”
Activities the Navy does to train and test service members change from time to time, Waller said, and those changes incorporate modeling criteria to figure out what the impacts are going to be for the marine environments in which those activities are scheduled to happen. Pieces of information like density data and threshold criteria are only two parts of the pieces the Navy analyzes when changing training and testing activities.
Some members of the greater Newport area, Waller added, are concerned about what the impacts to marine mammals are going to be if the Navy performs activities off this stretch of the coast. Greenhouse gas emissions were also a concern for some community residents, according to Waller.
“We’re taking the opportunity to look at any new activities we may be doing,” said Brian Wauer, the project manager. “We’re looking at all the new science that has come about in the last five years, so we have the latest and best available science as we’re analyzing what those impacts could be.”
Previously, the Navy developed mitigation measures to lessen the impacts on affected marine mammals. Using mid-frequency active sonar on a Navy ship as well as simply observing the testing area to make sure no marine mammals are present are both actions the Navy takes.
“What’s new with this document is we’re proposing new geographic mitigation areas,” Wauer said. “We have an area where we think marine mammals are more likely to be, we’re going to do things differently or not do them there at all.”