U.S. Navy Plans Expanded Warfare Training Off Coast

officials were in Ocean City this week to outline proposed increases in warfare
training in a vast area off the mid-Atlantic coast including Ocean City, but
allayed any fears about negative impacts on the environment, fishing
activities, fish and marine mammals and other impacts on the resort area.

U.S. Navy officials on
Monday held a public hearing at the Princess Royale in Ocean City
to first present a draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS) on a proposal to
increase warfare training off the mid-Atlantic coast. Navy officials told the
few dozen private citizens and elected officials in attendance they need to
expand warfare training exercises in the vast area targeted range complex off
the coast that extends from Delaware to the
mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, referred to as the Virginia Capes,
or VACAPES range.

The area has been
utilized for Navy warfare training off and on for years, but current conditions
around the world and technological advances require enhanced training for the
Atlantic fleet in the area at this time. The enhanced training will include
more air-to-air missile training, surface-to-air gunnery exercises, air
intercept exercises, underwater mine deployment exercises and other training.
One area of training that could be decreased in the area is the live bombing of
on-water targets under the proposed plan.

Before the Navy could
move forward with any plans to increase training off the coast, however, it
needed to complete an EIS, a comprehensive look at all of the potential impacts
of the expanded operations including effects on fish and fish habitat, marine
mammals and other highly migratory species. The EIS is being prepared in
consultation with several federal, state and local environmental agencies to
ensure any increased warfare training activities do not adversely impact the
environment in the VACAPES area including the waters off the coast of Ocean City.

David Noble of U.S.
Fleet Forces Command outlined the proposed activities in the vast test area
that includes the coastal area from Delaware
to North Carolina
and extends about 155 nautical miles out from the mean high tide line along the
shore in the affected areas. Noble explained the Navy has utilized the area for
over a century for various training exercises.

“The Navy is not
proposing any major changes, but rather small scale enhancements,” said Noble.

Navy officials on Monday
outlined three basic alternatives including a no-action alternative which, if
chosen would keep the amount of activity off the coast of the resort area at
current levels. The preferred alternative, or Alternative 2, would include all
of the activities in Alternative 1 along with the designation of a mine warfare

training area at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and along the coast of the Atlantic to maximize warfare training value. Under

Alternative 2, however, the Navy plans to reduce the current level of live
bombing exercises in the area to about five events a year.

After Navy officials
outlined the need for enhanced warfare training in the areas off the coast of
the resort and described the alternatives under consideration, the public was
invited to comment on the proposed changes, but there were few in attendance
ready or willing to put their opinions of the plan into the public record.

Ocean City Mayor Rick
Meehan pointed to the soft attendance at the hearing and implored the Navy to
do a better job of getting the word out about their plans off the coast and the
opportunity for the public to speak about the changes.

“I’m a little concerned
we don’t have a bigger turnout,” he said. “The notification wasn’t sufficient.
I think you need to do a little better job informing the public.”

Navy officials were
quick to point out they already do extensive testing in the area and the
proposed changes do not represent a major departure from what they are doing
already. Meehan agreed the proposed changes do not appear to have a major
impact on the area but acknowledged he knows little about what the Navy does
out there already.

“It doesn’t appear to
change what happens out there already,” he said. “It looks like there are
increases in some respects and decreases in activity in others.”

Meehan did voice some
concern about increased operations in the vast fishing areas off the coast and
urged Navy officials to minimize the impacts on those areas.

“I’m a little concerned
about the fishing industry in Ocean
City, both recreational
and commercial,” he said. “The further offshore you are, the better off we will
all be in Ocean City. Anything you can do to push it
further off the coast is better for all of us.”

Noble explained the
purpose of the EIS is to take steps to ensure any increased activity would not
greatly impact aquatic life in the designated areas, although the EIS does not
take into consideration economic factors.

“Through our research,
we have determined there will be no significant impact to fish habitat, fish or
marine mammals,” he said. “We’ve done a comprehensive acoustic analysis on the
potential impacts of the use of explosives and the impacts to fish will be
minimal. The same goes for other species such as whales, dolphins, seals and
sea turtles.”

Noble further said any
naval training exercises will include highly trained lookouts on vessels in the
test areas to further ensure no whales or seals or dolphins are threatened.