Navy Looks To Renew Permits for Sonar Testing In The Northwest

Mar 20, 2012

Right now the Navy is allowed to use sonar for testing and training exercises off the Northwest coast and down to Northern California. There is evidence that using sonar may interfere with marine mammal behavior – and even damage hearing and cause stranding. But the Navy’s use of sonar could change if it doesn’t get its permits renewed by 2015.

The Navy says sonar is a critical tool to protect national security along the Pacific Coast. John Mosher is the Northwest Environmental program manager for the US Pacific Fleet.

“Without the use of active sonar we can’t find submarines and they are an absolute threat in certain situations to our navy to our shipping to our coastlines, to a number of different resources that we have.”

If the Navy wants to continue using sonar for testing and training it has to put together a new Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, before the old ones expire. As part of that process, the Navy is hosting a series of open house information sessions in coastal towns in Washington, Oregon and Northern California.

There, people can ask questions and make comments about the Navy’s use of sonar. Before a sonar test a ship will post lookouts on deck. They also listen for marine mammal communication underwater and make sure there aren’t any animals nearby.

But environmental groups say those measures aren’t enough and the Navy should not be allowed to expand testing. The Natural Resources Defense Council and others are boycotting the open house sessions. They point out that no sessions are being held in major population centers, like Portland or Seattle.

Attendance at the 4 meetings that have already been held has topped out at 25 people.

The public has until April 27th to make comments about how the new Environmental Impact assessment should be conducted. The last meeting in the Northwest will be held in Newport, Oregon Tuesday night.

Copyright 2012 KUOW