Military Exercises in Gulf of Alaska Draw Concern for Environment

logo-w-sunburstKayla Desroches/KMXT

Tuesday, members of Kodiak’s Native community and others met with representatives from the Navy and U.S. Northern Command to talk about the upcoming military exercises as part of Northern Edge 2017.

In the past, locals have expressed concern about the environmental impact of such exercises in the Gulf of Alaska.

Carolyn Heitman was one of the residents to speak up. During her question, she brought up a source of waste from the exercises.

“And also one of the concerns, on these sonobuoys, which the navy has admitted, is that the batteries on these sonobuoys, none of these things are recovered when you do these exercises, everything goes to the bottom of the ocean. The navy doesn’t recover anything. And the batteries on this sonobuoys leak lithium.”

Alex Stone, the environmental program manager for the navy’s training in the Gulf of Alaska, had called into the meeting and responded. He said they have determined the batteries do not cause damage through the Gulf of Alaska Environmental Impact Statement and more prolonged studies.

“We looked at sort of the fate and transport of these materials in the ocean, and the EIS looks at the long term impacts and finds that these don’t have a significant impact on the environment. Even though lithium and water is stable, they do tend to sink to the bottom, and these materials are covered in the sea floor, so it’s definitely something we’re aware of and have analyzed in the EIS.”

Another member of the public asked whether the use of sonobuoys can disturb whales. Stone said the EIS analyzes the possible effects of that sonar.

“This isn’t a strong sonar. [It’s] unlikely to have impacts to marine mammals. That said, we do have mitigation measures – that we look for marine mammals in the area before the helicopter or airplane would deploy sonobuoys. If there’s marine mammals in the area, we would power down the sonar on the sonobuoys.”

The exercises are planned to happen in May and will include other participants beside the Navy, like the Air Force, the Coast Guard, and the Marines.

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