The U.S. Navy is scheduled hold a meeting in Eureka in early March to allow members of the public to comment on the potential environmental impacts of the Navy’s five-year training and weapons testing plans along the North Coast.
During the training period — lasting from 2015 to 2020 — Navy personnel will conduct exercises and test a variety of weapons and equipment such as sonar technology, electromagnetic devices and explosives off the coasts of Alaska, Oregon, Washington and Northern California.
The testing area extends to the tip of Humboldt County.
The Navy’s northwest region public affairs specialist Liane Nakahara said the meeting in Eureka — one of eight along the West Coast — will be a combination of an open house and a public forum, during which visitors can speak with Navy representatives involved with the project.
“What’s different about this meeting is that halfway through, at around 6:30 p.m., the project manager will also give an overview of the draft analysis and our findings,” Nakahara said.
The project’s nearly 2,000page draft environmental impact statement reviews the potential consequences for air quality, marine life, natural habitats and other environmental factors, and is currently open for public comment until March 25. Nakahara said comments may also be submitted at the public meeting.
“The most important things is to let the public know that they are able to comment,” Nakahara said. “It really helps us to make a stronger document.”
The introduction of the draft environmental impact statement states the training is necessary to “protect the United States from its enemies, protect and defend the rights of the United States and its allies to move freely on the oceans, and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to failed states.”
The document also states that the training and testing periods “have the potential to impact the environment,” which former U.S. Department of Agriculture crop loss analyst and environmental activist Rosalind Peterson said is an understatement.
“What I’m concerned about along our coast is the way that experimental weapon testing won’t stop during whale and salmon migrations,” Peterson said.
“I think it is imperative that we at least buy some time for the public comment period on this environmental impact statement.”
Peterson said she has submitted a letter to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors and other county boards in Northern California urging them to take action to extend the public comment period and to replace the Navy’s open house with a formal meeting.
“We are requesting that the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, in order to give residents time to file public comments, also contact our California senators and Congressman Jared Huffman, requesting them to work toward gaining an extension of time to file public comments,” she said.
Peterson said the Navy “already made up their mind” on its impact statement when it submitted a Dec. 18 letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service seeking authorization to potentially harm marine mammals.
The Marine Mammals Protection Act requires that the Navy receive permission from the National Marine Fisheries Service to conduct tests and training exercises which may potentially kill, harass or harm marine mammals. Peterson said the public comment period on the Navy’s request — which ends Feb. 28 — should also be extended. “Most people don’t know what’s happening,” she said.
Multiple phone calls to the National Marine Fisheries Service northwest region headquarters were not returned by deadline.