NORFOLK, Va. , –
The Navy hosted a hearing March 4 to gather public comments on the service's plans for how it will train with active sonar along the East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico.
The meeting was the first of six scheduled in East Coast communities as the Navy shares its plan for balancing its training needs with its role as an environmental steward.
Through the end of March, the Navy is seeking comment from government organizations and citizens on a draft environmental impact study that lists alternatives for how it will train with active sonar, in which sound is introduced into the water to detect potential targets.
The draft study deals with Atlantic Fleet Active Sonar Training, or AFAST. It evaluates potential environmental effects of active sonar and the improved extended echo ranging system, or IEER, in and around operating areas the Navy already uses.
The Navy's operationally preferred alternative is to continue to train as it does and has for several decades. Other alternatives include limits on when and where the Navy trains with active sonar, such as training in designated areas, training seasonally in designated areas or avoiding any active sonar use in certain areas.
"I'm glad we had people come out and express an interest in what the Navy's doing," said Jene Nissen, environmental program acoustics manager at U.S. Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk. "The feedback is very important to our analysis. It will be carefully reviewed and addressed in the final document."
Thirty-six members of the public attended the hearing Tuesday at the Advanced Technology Center on the Beach campus of Tidewater Community College.
Six spoke. Some expressed concern about potential effects of sonar use on marine life. Others applauded the Navy's efforts to research man-made sound and to safeguard marine life while conducting necessary training.
"I'm so proud the Navy actually has educated us," one of the speakers, Norfolk resident Debora Mosher, said during an interview.
Mosher said she approached the meeting with skepticism of the Navy's role in safeguarding marine life. During an open house before the hearing, she and other citizens spoke with Navy environmental experts, saw displays on sonar use and environmental precautions the Navy already takes and collected detailed fact sheets.
"Now my eyes have been opened a little bit that the Navy is trying to work with the species of the ocean," she said.
During the hearing, Mosher said she was amazed by the information that was available to the public - and said it had changed her mind "somewhat." She said she hoped the Navy would continue to communicate with the public.
"I feel that information is very important when you want to speak on a subject that you feel very dear about," she said. "It was very thoughtful. The information was very thorough. And I definitely will have a better understanding of active sonar."
Mosher said she was concerned about areas off the coast and worried about potential effects of sonar on whales. She urged the Navy to reduce the potential effects of sonar on whales and marine life, and thanked the sea service for investing $18 million a year into research on the effects of sound on marine life.
"I had no idea," she said during an interview.
Susan Barco, stranding response coordinator for the Virginia Aquarium in Virginia Beach, said she recognized that the Navy analyzes available data on marine mammal locations when planning exercises.
"We ask the Navy to continually update and reanalyze the best available data that they can get," she said, adding that she hopes the Navy will avoid training in areas where marine mammals are present.
Ellis James of Norfolk said he didn't want to stop the Navy from training, but wanted to ensure marine mammals are protected. He, too, was impressed by the information available to the public about why and how the Navy trains.
"If the Navy were to comply with all of these things," he said during the hearing, "it would ease my mind and the minds of a lot of people."
The AFAST draft environmental impact statement and the ability to comment via the Web are available at http://afasteis.gcsaic.com . CDs containing an electronic copy of the document are available upon request.
Members of the public can also comment via fax or mail.
Mailed comments can be sent to the following address.
Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Atlantic
Attn: Code EV22 (Atlantic Fleet Sonar Project Manager) 6506 Hampton Blvd.
Norfolk, Va., 23508-1278
The fax number is (888) 875-6781. A copy is available in Hampton Roads at Kirn Memorial Library, 301 E. City Hall Ave., Norfolk.
Comments must be postmarked by March 31 to become part of the record.