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Coastal panel rejects Navy plan to increase underwater explosions

March 8, 2013 | 12:30 pm

The California Coastal Commission voted Friday to reject the Navy’s plan for increased use of sonar and underwater explosions as part of increased training and testing off the coast.

The Navy requested that the commission find the plan consistent with the Coastal Commission’s charge to protect the coast and the offshore area, but it was opposed by several environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace.

Michael Jasny, senior policy analyst and director of the marine mammal project at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the Navy’s plans would disrupt the foraging and breeding of whales and kill many of the mammals. Jasny also criticized the Navy for refusing, in the past, to follow mitigation suggestions from the Coastal Commission.

Commission members blasted the Navy for purportedly providing shoddy science to support its view that the damage to marine mammals will be marginal. Members were also upset that Navy officials, in advance of the vote, said the Navy did not plan to follow the mitigation measures suggested by Coastal Commission staff members such as putting certain areas off-limits to training.

Commission member Dayna Bochco said the Navy’s plan “seems like an extraordinary increase [in sonar and other training] when we’re at peace, in most places.” Commission member Martha McClure, a supervisor from Del Norte County, said the Navy “needs to understand the importance of the California coast in relationship to the entire world.”

Navy Cmdr. John Doney, director of exercises for the San Diego-based 3rd Fleet, said the increase in training is needed to get sailors ready for a shift in emphasis to the Pacific Ocean region and beyond. The California coastline, he said, is the best training area available for the Pacific Fleet and provides conditions akin to other hot spots in the world, where the U.S. might be confronted by enemies looking to sink an American vessel.

America’s adversaries, he said, are building super-quiet submarines that threaten the U.S. Navy.

“I would submit the threat is real and the threat is out there,” he said.

After the vote, Commission Chairwoman Mary Shallenberger encouraged the Navy to begin negotiations with commission staffers about mitigation measures and then return at a future meeting.

No training will be curtailed, at least in the near future, because of the vote, Navy officials said. The approval process for the Navy’s training and testing programs involves state and federal agencies.


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Photo: Protesters urging the Coastal Commission to reject the Navy plan for increased training off Southern California. Credit: Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press