Fw: Draft EIS on Navy Hawai'i Region Missile Range

Subject: Draft EIS on Navy Hawai'i Region Missile Range

sted on: Sunday, July 29, 2007
Navy training plan must reflect new marine monument status


The draft EIS and more information about the Hawai'i Range complex are online (www.govsupport.us/hrc), and the public can comment by e-mail (deis_hrc@govsupport.us) or by mail: Public Affairs Officer, Pacific Missile Range Facility, P.O. Box 128, Kekaha, HI 96752.

Public hearings will begin with an open house at 5 p.m.:

Aug. 21, Kaua'i War Memorial Convention Hall, Lihu'e.

Aug. 23, McKinley High School, Honolulu.

Aug. 27, Baldwin High School, Wailuku.

Aug. 29, Waiakea High School, Hilo.

The Navy has unveiled a draft of its Environmental Impact Statement on planned training in the Hawai'i region. It's an enormous undertaking in an expansive area of the Pacific; not surprisingly, the full document is voluminous, at some 1,700 pages.

The period for public review and comment, to extend through Sept. 17, began Friday (see box). And it's especially critical that people take time learn about the plan and weigh in, because the Navy is seeking a blanket approval for its training missions, within certain environmental-protection and safety parameters.

This means whenever the Navy would conduct training and testing missions within a large swath of the Pacific around the Islands, it would follow the same protocols, without the need to secure a permit ? or undergo hearings ? every time.

The draft EIS on what is called the "Hawai'i Range Complex" describes potential effects of various alternatives; the Navy's preferred alternative, which would involve more exercises than it has conducted in the past, would involve some additional training, with more complicated engagements involving multiple carrier ships. Given the need to prepare military in these times of war along with changes in technology, some measure of that is understandable.

What needs clarification is how the protocols ? including the rules aimed at reducing risks of injury to marine mammals during maneuvers or sonar exercises ? might be altered if ongoing research shows that's needed. This is an aspect the Navy is discussing with federal authorities overseeing marine environmental protections, and it needs to be settled.

More critically, there has been a change in the regulatory landscape ? or seascape, in this case: the establishment of Papahanaumokuakea, a national monument aimed at protecting the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and providing a sanctuary for the endangered species that live there.

A section of the EIS acknowledges that certain missile trajectories already in use could result in debris and residue falling into the marine monument area. This is a concern, especially because the Navy favors more, not less, training to be undertaken in the Hawai'i Range Complex.

The draft EIS assesses that impact as minimal, in that any debris would be minuscule in the context of the enormous ocean zone.

When the monument was established, the presidential proclamation required military activities to be carried out "in a manner that avoids, to the extent practicable and consistent with operational requirements, adverse impacts on monument resources and qualities."

Yes, that's quite a bit of latitude, but the monument is a national commitment to keep the environment pristine as possible. The bar against exercises that could litter the area should be set high.

And there's reason to be encouraged. The Navy has an exemplary record of research into the effects of its exercises on marine mammals and adapting their exercises to accommodate sea creatures when necessary. And now, more than ever, the public should recognize the need for ongoing training so that sailors can be ready to deploy and to use their skills and technologies at a moment's notice.

It should be possible to arrive at a consensus that accomplishes this, without sacrificing the hard-won protections for our marine environment. And that must be the goal going forward.


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