NORFOLK, Va. –
U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFFC) received a 2019 Secretary of the Navy Environmental Award for environmental planning of the Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing (AFTT) Study Area Phase III Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), March 19.
“I'm extremely proud of the team's accomplishments in completing the EIS and securing the multitude of environmental permits and approvals required,” said Liz Nashold, director, USFFC Fleet Installations and Environment. “From operators, biologists, acoustic scientists and environmental planners – it was truly a team effort.”
During a five-year planning period, USFFC’s Fleet Environmental and Installations Department ensured that environmental requirements were met while sustaining the Navy’s ability to continue uninterrupted training and testing in the AFTT Study Area.
“We had several significant challenges during the project,” said Todd Kraft, the AFTT program manager. “These included incorporating changes to training requirements due to the release of the Optimized Fleet Response Plan, analyzing newly designated biologically important areas, and reducing project costs by 25 percent.”
Many environmental laws and regulations apply to Navy training and testing activities at sea, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Executive Order 12114 responsibilities, obtaining Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) authorization, compliance with the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and the Coastal Zone Management Act.
“We consulted with numerous federal and state regulatory agencies during the process,” stated Kraft. “Failure to do so, could result in delay or cancellation of training or testing activities, or loss of access to training areas – and these outcomes would be detrimental to the Navy’s current and future readiness.”
The team also produced high quality environmental planning documents and completed the associated compliance processes for uninterrupted Navy training and testing in the 2.6 million square nautical miles of ocean in the AFTT Study Area. As a result, the team’s efforts were critical for positioning the at-sea environmental planning program to support the Navy’s mission to properly train and equip its forces.
“We worked closely with training and testing commands including the Naval Sea System and Naval Air Systems Commands and the Office of Naval Research to assess their needs and determine innovative measures to ensure those requirements are met in an environmentally compliant fashion,” explained Kraft. “This enables military readiness activities in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean to continue without interruption and in compliance with all applicable environmental laws and regulations.”
One of the highlights of the planning process was implementing a robust public engagement plan after the release of the draft EIS in the summer of 2017. The team conducted several public meetings in coastal areas from Rhode Island to Florida.
“The team did a great job explaining to interested members of the public, as well as public elected officials, the critical need to conduct military readiness activities and potential impacts of the Navy’s proposed action,” reflected Kraft. “We responded to all of the written comments we received in the final EIS.”
The USFFC-sponsored U.S. Navy ‘Stewards of the Sea: Defending Freedom, Protecting the Environment’ outreach program and exhibit was also leveraged in the environmental planning process. USFFC developed the program in 2013 to raise awareness of the Navy’s environmental policy and initiatives, and to increase support for its training and basing activities among public, scientific and regulatory communities.
By using a variety of the program’s digital communication platforms, the team was able to achieve a more efficient and effective way to conduct public engagement during the scoping and public meeting phases.
“In using these tools, we were able to reach a larger audience while reducing costs from the previous phases to dramatically increase efficiencies and address fiscal constraints,” said Kraft.
In August 2018, Section 316 of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 was signed into effect, amending the MMPA to extend the period the Secretary of Commerce may authorize the incidental taking of marine mammals for military readiness activities from five to seven years if the Secretary finds that such takings will have a negligible impact on any marine mammal species. Thus, the team is refining their environmental planning timelines and processes for the next phase to enhance how they identify and assess emerging readiness requirements, especially in this era of great power competition.
“Current and future planning will enable our operators to train to the high-end fight, which is critical in this era of great power competition,” concluded Nashold. “We will focus on continued access to ranges and at-sea training areas that provide the air and sea space needed to achieve and maintain mission readiness.”
The Department of the Navy environmental programs play a vital role in the achievement of our National Defense Strategy. The Navy conducts numerous conservation, restoration, innovation and sustainment efforts to protect the environment, while fulfilling the Navy’s readiness mission.
To learn more on USFFC’s environmental initiatives, please visit https://www.public.navy.mil/usff/environmental
Stay connected with the Stewards of the Sea program on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/usnavystewardsofthesea and on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/usnavystewardsofthesea