One new booth at ComFish 2016 wasn’t a vendor at all. The U.S. Navy decided to reserve a spot this year in the Kodiak Harbor Convention Center. It also gave a public presentation Thursday, where Alex Stone, the Navy’s program manager on the environmental impact statement, spoke about the training in the Gulf of Alaska.
Last year, a lot of Alaskans expressed concern over Navy exercises in the Gulf of Alaska. That’s one of the reasons Stone says the Navy has a booth at ComFish this year. He says it’s a way to provide the community with more information about the training.
“And our environmental protection, the way we try and protect the environment while we do the training that we do. So, it’s sort of our continuing effort to do more outreach, to answer more questions. Like you said, during our last exercise in 2015, prior to that, a lot of confusion and misinformation about the training we do. So, we’re trying to be more proactive and go out and tell people what we do.”
Stone says Alaska is good for training because it’s different. It helps diversify the environments the military is familiar with.
He also says the huge areas of air space and land ranges over mainland Alaska factored in.
“Our planes fly over and take advantage of that big air space, and ranges there are unparalleled, and it’s a chance to work with the other forces. The army and the air force. It’s really special to coming to Alaska.”
He also mentions Alaska’s weather. And the depth and terrain of the ocean floors, which are comparable to other parts of the world.
Stone says training is scheduled to take place in the Gulf of Alaska next summer. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that agencies like the Navy write an environmental impact statement about any activities that could affect the environment, and Stone says the Navy releases an EIS every five years.
“It looks at all the potential activities we might do. It kind of looks at a maximum level of activity that we might do up here. And then it studies all the environmental impacts, and then we go and get all the necessary regulatory permits and processes and make sure that we’re in full compliance with the law for all the environmental requirements and we’re also doing everything we can to try and minimize and avoid impacts to the environment.”
He says they completed an EIS in 2011 that covers 2011 to 2016, and they’re now finishing one that looks beyond this year.