The U.S. Navy has pinned down what the naval exercises in the Gulf of Alaska will look like for the next few years, and the new plan reflects input from Gulf of Alaska communities and tribal entities.
The Navy conducts a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement every five years, and after consultation with the public, tribes, and state governmental agencies, it’s settled on Alternative 1.
The other two options were a no change alternative where the exercises would be consistent with the last five years, and Alternative 2, which includes two vessel sinking exercises a year and twice as many exercises as Alternative 1.
That’s according to Alex Stone, project manager for the Gulf of Alaska Environmental Impact Statement.
“Alternative 2 is two exercises per year, so if this is five years based on the alternative that would be 10 exercises over five years. Alternative 1 is one every year, so that’s five exercises.”
Stone says Alternative 2 was the Navy’s preferred alternative in the EIS, but the Assistant Secretary of the Navy chose Alternative 1.
“Alternative 1 would provide the coverage for the activities which we plan to do there and flexibility if we were gonna do more exercises ‘cause, as I mentioned, it covers one each year, and what we’re doing is one every other year.”
He says it also reflects input from the public.
Alternative 1 puts a hold on the use of explosives in the Portlock Bank area, as requested by the Sun’aq Tribe and other tribal entities, and prohibits the use of sonar and explosives between June and September in the North Pacific Right Whale Cautionary area.
The supplemental EIS identifies Portlock Bank as a fishing area and says while the Navy hasn’t seen evidence of a negative impact on fish or fishing activity, the Navy has talked with tribes and “affirmed” they won’t use explosives in the area.
The Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak’s
The Natural Resources Department Director, Tom Lance, says the tribes sat down for a consultation with navy representatives in 2015 before that year’s military exercise, Northern Edge. He says they gave the Navy a list of Requirements for Continued Operations in the Gulf of Alaska, and it had more than half a dozen demands.
Lance says, after that meeting ended, they spoke with Stone and emphasized the importance of protecting Portlock Bank.
“There’s really interesting biology and chemistry going on there, and we’d like to see that whole northern section of that TMAA (Temporary Maritime Activities Area) lopped off to protect that area.”
The exclusion of explosives was the compromise.
Lance calls the supplemental EIS “a start.”
“They’ve spent a lot of money and a lot of time and we have spent a lot of time and a little bit of money trying to encourage them to work with us to answer all of our questions and I think by them not choosing the preferred alternative is a demonstration that they heard us.”
Northern Edge 2017 starts next week on May 1.
Stone says the Navy’s involvement in this year’s set of exercises is more limited than in previous years and that the Navy is sending two ships in addition to a replenishment ship. He says this is the first year the Navy will comply with the new guidelines under Alternative 1.