February 4, 2009

Navy Plan to Turn Pacific Coast Into Firing Range: Has anybody asked the fish?

I came across this open letter yesterday.

“To all,

Last Friday, I attended a Navy open house and hearing on the Navy’s EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) and OEIS (Overseas Environmental Impact Statement). The EIS covers the state waters (three nautical miles), territorial waters out to 12 nm and the EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) out to 200 nm from Washington to northern California.

It’s being done because the Navy wants to significantly increase its training activities, which includes using unmanned drones, setting off explosives underwater, setting up minefields, targets for shooting practice and other practice warfare exercises. If you haven’t heard about this document or what the Navy intends to do, don’t be surprised, almost no one in Oregon has. Even worse, the Navy’s deadline for submission of comments on its draft EIS/OEIS, a huge document that purports to describe all the “significant” environmental impacts on the Oregon coast from greatly increased activities, is Feb. 11, 2009.

I found out about this event several days before Friday, only because someone on a coastal issues list serve I’m on said he’d seen mention of the public meetings in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Turns out that the Navy believes that “adequate” notice regarding an EIS/OEIS that allegedly covers the environmental impacts of greatly increased naval warfare exercises along the coast of OR, from the shoreline to 200 nm offshore, required a notice of open house and hearing in: (1) The Lincoln City News-Guard. That’s it.

The sole paper copy of this EIS/OEIS is in the Driftwood Public library in Lincoln City, OR and the library is misidentified as the Lincoln City library. I subsequently saw a single page notice of the open house/hearing, with a web address for reviewing the EIS/OEIS, on the notice board at my local public library. This notice, while identifying the HMSC (Hatfield Marine Science Center of Oregon State University) as the meeting location, did not state where at the Marine Science Center (MSC) the meeting would be held.

There are at least two places meetings/lectures are offered, in two different sections of the MSC.

Of the 40 or so people at the open house, six of them offered public comment. One was Dr. Bruce Mate (OSU faculty, I believe) a marine mammals expert, who expressly stated that because of the lack of notice, he had not had time to adequately review this document (at least 700 pages), yet even what he had been able to review indicated there were problems with the data (or lack thereof) as presented in the EIS/OEIS.

Every other commenter expressed similar dismay at the lack of notice. One man, a representative of the whiting fishery, had driven all the way from Tillamook to the Hatfield Marine Science Center, in South Beach, (approx. 70 miles and a two-hour drive) to attend; he said that he had just found out about the hearing that afternoon. Terry Thompson, Lincoln County Commissioner and commercial fisherman, also stated he had just found out about the EIS/OEIS and felt that notice had been inadequate and there was insufficient time to review and submit written comments on the EIS/OEIS.

Mr. Thompson described how he’d been on fishing boat that had lost five people when a never-identified submarine had become fouled in their nets.

The sub was fine, five fishermen were killed. A researcher from NOAA made similar comments regarding inadequate notice and insufficient time to review the EIS/OEIS. The Executive Summary of the EIS/OEIS states that the Navy is working with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), but it seems the Navy could not be bothered to contact an internationally-known marine mammals researcher, representatives of local fisheries, or local government representatives (who also happen to be directly involved in the fishing industry).

Coastal residents, businesspeople, research scientists and fishermen on the coast south of Newport are being even more thoroughly ignored: the Navy has no other meetings in Oregon scheduled.

I’m posting this because many of you may own property on the Oregon coast, or spend a few weeks there every summer or just enjoy walking the beaches every once in awhile — you might be interested in the Navy’s plans.

The notice regarding the issuance of this EIS/OEIS was grossly inadequate. It is ridiculous for the Navy to believe that only one notice and comment hearing, with notice published in only one small-town coastal newspaper, gives adequate notice and opportunity for (1) all those who reside or own property on the Oregon coast; and/or (2) all those who are interested in what happens to and on the Oregon coast and offshore.

Because of the inadequate notice, the deadline of Feb. 11 does not allow sufficient time for all interested parties to submit written comments. The EIS/OEIS describes a very significant increase in activities in the Navy’s training range and, therefore, along the Oregon coast — it matters very much that anyone who cares about the Oregon coast have sufficient time to review and comment on this document.

From my partial review of the Executive Summary and Section 1, I can say that the EIS/OEIS is a vague and contradictory document. It reads as though sections of the earlier (2007) Notice of Intent were transplanted into the EIS/OEIS with no revision. The text says one thing, the tables and maps something rather different.

What is clear is that the Navy’s Northwest Training Range Complex includes all waters along the Oregon coast, including inland waters, such as bays and estuaries, subsurface waters, sea floor and the airspace along the coast (as far inland as Idaho) and that the alternatives, so vaguely outlined in the EIS/OEIS, may include greatly increased warfare practice in Oregon coastal waters. That includes unmanned drone flights, underwater minefields, submarine activity, use of various types of sonar (there has been litigation up to US Supreme Court regarding the very serious effects of the Navy’s sonar on whales), low altitude training flights of the Navy’s new missile bearing jet, etc.

You may think that’s fine, you may not. But, like many others in Oregon, you might like to have a chance to review this document for yourself, and have your say as to its adequacy in describing what will happen in the waters and airspace along the Oregon coast and whether or not this draft document adequately assesses those impacts. As matters stand now, you have until Feb. 11 to review the draft EIS/OEIS and submit written comments. I have heard that at least one person has been unable to submit her comments to the website because of the a malfunction of the site.

If you’re not happy with this situation, you might wish to contact your elected federal (House and Senate) representatives to let them know what you think of the inadequate notice and time to review this important document. Maybe to let your representatives know that the solution is to schedule several more open houses and hearings in other towns along the coast as well as in Portland, Salem, Eugene and Medford or Grants Pass.

Maybe you’ll feel the governor’s office should hear what you think too. For the record, the draft EIS indicates that the Navy did not believe it needed to contact, notify or work with the governor of Oregon when preparing this document, not to mention the many fisherman groups along the Oregon coast, environmental organizations such as the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife or marine biologists at OSU or the HMSC.

You can find the EIS/OEIS at www.NWTRangeComplexEIS.com. Click on Documents. Takes a while to load unless you have a faster broadband connection than I do.

Susan Hogg.”

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