New & Noteworthy: A Lawsuit Over Navy Sonar; Imoto Retires

Sounding Off: On December 13, the National Marine Fisheries Service authorized “the most environmentally destructive of the alternatives the Navy analyzed for training and testing in the HSTT [Hawai`i-Southern California Training and Testing] Study Area during the period December 26, 2013, to December 25, 2018,” states a complaint filed December 16 by the Conservation Council for Hawai`i, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Animal Welfare Institute, and the Ocean Mammal Institute.
That decision, they argue, was “arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law.”

The Navy has proposed to broadcast 510,000 hours of low-, medium-, and high-frequency sonar over the next five years in the study area, which spans nearly 3 million square miles. NMFS is also allowing the Navy to set off 260,000 explosives in the area.

The Navy’s environmental impact statement for the training found that 155 marine mammals would be killed (including individuals of five species of endangered whales) and more than 2,000 would be permanently injured by the proposed exercises. What’s more, marine mammals would experience disruptions to behaviors such as sheltering, feeding, breeding, migration, and nursing some 9.6 million times, the complaint states.

The final EIS found that under the Navy’s preferred action, nearly 2 million marine mammals would be killed, injured or otherwise harmed each year. (It should be noted that the Navy’s “No Action” alternative still would have allowed some level of training.)

The complaint notes that in comments on the draft EIS and on NMFS’s proposed rule, testifiers used National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cetacean density and distribution maps to identify more than a dozen biologically important areas and recommended restricting activities in some of them. They also criticized the lack of evaluation of a true “No Action” alternative.

NMFS simply disregarded those comments, the complaint argues.

The groups asked the court to vacate NMFS’s authorization of the Navy’s training and testing activities, issue “any appropriate injunctive relief,” and award litigation costs.

“The science is clear: sonar and live-fire training in the ocean harms marine mammals,” Ocean Mammal Institute’s president Marsha Green said in a press release. “There are safer ways to conduct Navy exercises that include time and place restrictions to avoid areas known to be vital for marine mammals’ feeding, breeding and resting. With a little advanced planning and precaution, the Navy can conduct training and protect marine species in the Pacific Ocean.”

Imoto Retires: Roger Imoto, acting administrator for the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife has retired and been replaced with former O`ahu branch manager David Smith. The division has been without a permanent administrator for more than a year.

Correction: Last month’s Board Talk item on the wind farm proposed by Na Pua Makani Power Partners, LLC, incorrectly affiliated the wind project with West Wind Works, LLC (3W). Although 3W was part owner as recently as 2012, Na Pua Makani Power Partners, LLC currently a wholly owned subsidiary of Champlin Hawai`i Wind Holdings, LLC.

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