Navy sees more training in future

Gazing into a 21st century crystal ball and seeing increased training activities, the Navy held a scoping meeting Tuesday evening to solicit input or concerns surrounding the designated training range utilized by the military in the Pacific Northwest.

The Navy is preparing an Environmental Impact Statement and Overseas EIS to comprehensively evaluate the potential environmental effects of heightened activities now and in the future.

“This is not about expanding anything geographically,” said Sheila Murray, Navy Region Northwest environmental public affairs officer. “It’s about increasing the frequency of training activities.”

A bulk of the training takes place on the coast and above 10,000 feet. Murray said the training activities are expected to increase from 8,000 exercises per year to approximately 13,000.

More than a dozen residents attended the informal, open house-style meeting at the Coachman Inn. Their concerns? Marine wildlife and industry.

“We know that sonar is a concern and its potential effects on marine mammals,” said Rich Melaas with Navy Region Northwest.

An Upper Skagit Tribal member inquired about the continued use of crab pots at the Electronic Ordnance Range at Crescent Harbor. Her concern was noted and will be addressed in the EIS.

“We’re educating people on what the EIS is about,” Murray said. “We’re not there to influence anyone. The public’s response to this will help us do a better job.”

Another woman, whose husband is a commercial fisherman, asked about the notification process surrounding restricted areas, lest her husband find himself inadvertently in a precarious situation.

“She really just wanted to know how we would let him know,” Murray said.

During the meeting, Navy personnel and representatives spoke with attendees about the proposed action as well as obtained oral and written comments on the environmental issues.

“EIS is all about a proposal of something the Navy is looking into,” Murray clarified.

The Northwest Training Range Complex is the principal range for aviation, surface, submarine, and special warfare units based in Washington. The range also includes marine waters off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and Northern California.

“It’s really a large area,” Melaas said. “Every place is unique in that they have different types of training areas. So, yes, the Puget Sound area has some unique aspects, one of them being the ability to use the electronic frequency spectrums. Lots of places have land, mountains and water, but because the population density is so high they don’t have the capability to use it.”

The range complex extends about 250 nautical miles west from the coastline into the Pacific Ocean. It encompasses more than 126,000 square nautical miles of ocean area. The range complex also includes more than 34,000 square nautical miles of airspace. The land, air, and sea components of the Northwest Training Range Complex provide the space and resources needed to realistically train sailors and aviators.

The EIS process is lengthy and any changes implemented are not exactly just around the corner.

“It could take another two years,” Murray said.

A January scoping meeting, also in Oak Harbor, educated the public on the impending transition from existing P-3C aircraft to the P-8A Multi-Mission Aircraft, for which another EIS is being compiled.

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