Navy seeks input on environmental study

Related to training exercises
Thu, 07/13/2017 - 3:30pm
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This version contains updated information provided by the Navy on Thursday, July 13:

The United States Navy is seeking public input on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement that has been written to “evaluate the potential effects from training and testing activities” the Navy routinely schedules up and down the East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico.

A press release issued by the Navy on June 29, stated that the EIS was being prepared to “evaluate the potential environmental effects from training and testing activities conducted within the Navy’s Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing Study Area.” Because of that, the Navy has announced that a public hearing on the Environmental Impact Statement will be held on Wednesday, July 19, 2017, between 4 and 8 p.m., at Hotel Providence, 139 Mathewson Street, in Providence. 

That study area encompasses 2.6 million nautical miles, which includes the coastal waters off Rhode Island. Although the press release issued by the U.S. Fleet Forces Command out of Norfoilk, Virginia, stated that “The Navy’s proposed action is to conduct military readiness training activities in the AFTT study area” and that the “military readiness activities include the use of active sonar and explosives within existing range complexes and testing ranges... along the eastern coast of North America...” A 60-day public comment period on the Environmental Impact Statement has begun, and will remain in effect until Aug. 29, 2017, according to a press release issued by the Navy.

Ted Brown, the Environmental Public Affairs Officer for U.S. Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia, confirmed that the Navy was complying with the Marine Mammal Protection Act, as well as the Environmental Protection Agencies, and other departments that approve permitting for the Navy to continue its training. “We have to do this every five years,” Brown told The Block Island Times. Brown said the training “has been going on, quite frankly, for decades,” and is nothing new. The public comment period the Navy is now engaged in will be used to finalize the Environmental Impact Study of these training tests that is now in draft form.

According to information provided by the Fleet Forces Command, “This is the third time (Phase) Navy has conducted comprehensive planning and permitting for these activities (Phase I covered 2008-2013, Phase II covers 2013-2018). The Phase III Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing EIS will support re-authorizations of Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) permits by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for Navy training and testing activities, with the new permits taking effect in November of 2018.”

“Training and testing activities within Rhode Island's coastal zone (extending three nautical miles offshore) include (1) small and medium caliber gunnery, (2) pierside and at-sea sonar use, (3) testing of unmanned systems (including aerial, surface, and undersea), (4) small boat maneuvering, (5) inserting and extracting personnel (e.g., to and from a harbor, beach, etc.), (6) maritime security training, (7) testing of towed and semi-stationary equipment, (8) and testing of non-explosive torpedoes, countermeasures, radars, chemical and biological detectors, and launchers. We do not plan on changing the type or tempo of these activities from previous levels analyzed in the 2013 Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing EIS.  

The Draft EIS analyzes the potential impacts on the physical, biological, and socioeconomic environments within the Study Area.”

The press release goes on to say “The Navy has prepared and filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)/Overseas EIS (OEIS) for public release on June 30, 2017, to evaluate the potential environmental effects from training and testing activities conducted within the Navy’s Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing (AFTT) Study Area. With the filing of the Draft EIS/OEIS, the Navy has initiated a 60-day public comment period and has scheduled five public meetings to receive comments on the Draft EIS/OEIS.”

“Each of the public meetings will be conducted in an open-house format with informational stations staffed by Navy representatives,” the press release stated. “These representatives will be available during the public meeting to clarify information related to the Draft EIS/OEIS. Federal, state, and local agencies and officials, and interested groups and individuals are encouraged to provide comments in person at any of the public meetings or in writing during the public comment period. Attendees will be able to submit comments in writing or orally using a voice recorder at the public meetings. Equal weight will be given to oral and written statements. Comments may also be submitted by U.S. postal mail or electronically via the project website (www.aftteis.com).

“Written comments may be submitted by mail to Naval Facilities Engineering Command Atlantic, Attn: Code EV22KP (AFTT EIS Project Managers), 6506 Hampton Boulevard, Norfolk, VA 23508-1278 and through the project website; all written comments must be postmarked or received by August 29, 2017. All statements, oral or written, submitted during the public review period will become part of the public record on the Draft EIS/OEIS and will be considered in preparation of the Final EIS/OEIS.”

The Environmental Impact Statement can be read here: http://www.aftteis.com/Current-Documents. A hard copy is available at the Providence Public Library.