Navy: More space needed to maneuver during Northern Edge

New supplemental EIS will be subject to a 45-day public review

An F/A-18F Super Hornet launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt while participating in Exercise Northern Edge. (May 15, 2019) Photo courtesy of Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Andrew Langholf/U.S. Navy

U.S. Navy officials seeking more space for maneuvering vessels and aircraft during Northern Edge training exercises in Alaska say they are preparing a supplemental environmental impact statement/overseas environmental impact statement.

The supplement would allow for more space for maneuvering vessels and aircraft in the Gulf of Alaska and the addition of a new mitigation area within the continental shelf and shelf slope area of the existing temporary maritime activities area.

The Navy simply needs more space in this area, where no sonar or explosives would be employed, said Julianne Stanford an environmental public affairs specialist with the Navy Region Northwest.

The new document should be ready to release for public comment sometime in March, at which time it will be put out for a full 45-day public review, Stanford said on Tuesday, Feb. 1.

Public comments will be considered in preparation of the final SEIS/OEIS, she said.

No decision will be made on implementing any alternative to the Gulf of Alaska study area until the National Environmental Policy Act process is complete and a record of decision is signed by the Navy, she said.

Key updates proposed in the 2022 supplement to the Navy’s 2020 draft supplemental EIS/OEIS include additional airspace and sea space to the west and south of the Temporary Maritime Activities Area (TMAA). The additional area, referred to as the Western Maneuver Area, would be approximately 185,806 square nautical miles.

The current TMAA, which is some 42,146 square nautical miles, would remain unchanged with all activities involving active sonar and explosives still occurring in that area only, Navy officials said.

The revised proposed action would not include new or increased training activities. Proposed activities in the western maneuver area (WMA) would be limited to those associated WMA would allow for more realistic, complex training scenarios in a safer, more efficient manner to better prepare them to respond to real world incidents, Navy officials said.

In direct response to agency, tribal and public comments, the Navy is also proposing implementation of a new mitigation area, of some 14,600 square nautical miles, within the continental shelf and shelf slope area of the TMAA.

Navy officials said they would restrict use of explosives in this area during exercises, up to 10,000 feet altitude, to protect marine species and biologically important habitat.  The proposed mitigation area would also minimize impacts on marine mammals, fish species including salmon, and marine birds, military officials said.