Grass Roots Activism: Challenging the Navy's Sonar Training in the Pacific Northwest

One person really can make a difference.  Such is the case with Marie Gargano, an NRDC member who has been vocal in her opposition to the Navy's Northwest Training Range Complex.  She not only attended the Navy's only public hearing in Oregon, but she also submitted comments to the Navy and was featured in the Oregonian on this issue.  Now, she's organizing a letter-writing campaign to Senator Wyden to investigate the environmental impacts of the Navy's proposed action. 

NRDC is also submitting extensive comments on the Navy's proposed sonar training in the Pacific Northwest, and I will upload a copy of our letter once it's finalized.  (The comment period has been extended from February 11 to February 18, 2009.)  In the meantime, I'd like to support Marie's efforts by cross posting her letter to Senator Wyden below.  Here is the link to the Senator's webpage.  Also, here is a link to a Congressional letter written by Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader and David Wu, asking the Navy to extend the public comment period until April 11, 2009 as well as to add additional public hearings in Oregon. 

Many thanks, Marie, for all your efforts on behalf of marine mammals!

[Marie's Letter to Senator Wyden]

Dear Senator Wyden,

I am writing to you as a very concerned constituent who lives on the coast of Oregon.

On Friday. January 30th, I attended the Newport, Oregon hearing of the US Navy. This was the only hearing in the entire state for their "NW Training Range Complex EIS/OEIS.

I spoke and entered my comments into the official record for the hearing. Specifically, I said, "In litigation in California against the Navy, the Navy itself has estimated that its California sonar drills would disturb or injure 170,000 marine mammals and cause permanent injury and possible death to more than 450 whales, as well as temporary impairment in at least 8000 others. What does the Navy estimate for Oregon waters?"

My biggest concern is the Navy plans to use both mid-frequency and high frequency sonar in the coastal waters; these have a history of injury to marine mammals.
Also, I was told at the hearing there isn't a 12-mile offshore limit to the Navy's proposal. In fact, one of the Navy personnel said that if they need to do shallow water training, their proposal allows them to do it. One can imagine that instead of whale watching in Depoe Bay, it could be submarine watching!
As far as I was able to discern from my discussions with Navy representatives at the Open House (held immediately prior to the Hearing on January 30th), the Navy wants to take over and use the Oregon Air National Guard training areas off the entire coast of Oregon in order to expand the Navy's training activities.
Included in the Navy's handout for their preferred proposal:
· EA-18G Growler aircraft.... which flies at Mach 1.6, exceeding the "sound barrier". Will the coast be subjected to sonic booms if the Navy gets what they want?
· Guided missile submarines
· P-8 Multimission Maritime aircraft
· Unmanned Aerial systems
· Air and sea surface targets
· Portable undersea tracking range for anti-submarine training
· Use of mid-level and high frequency active sonar known to cause marine mammal deaths

I have reviewed some of the Navy's DEIS/OEIS.... Their plans for the Oregon coast are quite alarming.
The Navy needs to rethink and abandon large parts of this entire proposal. The potential effects of new and increased military activity off the coast of Oregon could result in a general degradation of the natural environment, be fatal to wildlife and detrimental to the human quality of life. And contrary to the best interests of the tourism industry and coastal property values.

As a result of complaints voiced at the Navy's hearing, the US Navy has agreed to extend the end of public comments from February 11 to February 18th; adding one week.

I am asking you to become involved in this issue to ensure our concerns are heard loud and clear before the Navy's proposals become foregone conclusions.
1. Ask the Navy to hold additional public hearings in Oregon with at least two weeks notice in papers, radio stations, and TV both in Portland, cities in the Willamette valley, and the coastal towns.
2. Personally hold a hearing by your Subcommittee of the Energy Committee on the potential effects of the Navy's plans and alternatives on coastal resources, aquatic ecosystems, fisheries and marine mammals (or with the agreement of the Chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee - Jeff Bingaman - hold the hearing at the full committee level which has broader jurisdiction).   I believe your subcommittee has sufficient jurisdiction to hold hearings; includes BLM areas like the Yaquina Lighthouse. The Full Committee includes National Parks and similar area like Oregon Dunes.

Perhaps it is possible to leverage the forests and public lands to include support for coastal economies, like fisheries and tourism that are adjuncts to preserved areas.

I ask that the Committee/sub-Committee hearings be Field hearings so there is first hand input from your local constituents; many do not have the financial resources to travel to Washington, DC for hearings.

Please consider my requests and allow your constituents to influence the outcome of the Navy's plans. WE are the ones who will live with all the possible negative consequences if the Navy is wrong. And unfortunately, many marine mammals may be gone.

Thank you,