About 100 people on land and sea last Friday afternoon protested the upcoming Northern Edge 2015, a joint military exercise running June 15-26 in the Gulf of Alaska. A flotilla of about a dozen boats from big seiners to a man in a kayak cruised off the Homer Spit while an enthusiastic group on shore waved banners and flags at the Seafarers Memorial.
Some banners first saw use during protests in 1989 against the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, said artist Mavis Muller, who spoke at the rally. One sign hung on a boat read “Alaskans Still Fighting for the Earth,” a banner made from filter fabric used in jury-rigged oil boom in Mud Bay during the spill.
“This fight is ongoing, seemingly without end, but Alaskans are committed,” Muller said in a press release. “We’re still fighting for the protection of all the water bodies that connect us as communities and as a small world.”
Northern Edge is a joint military operation hosted by the Alaskan Command, Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson, with active Pacific Coast duty and reserve units from the Air National Guard, U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy. Northern Edge includes three U.S. Navy destroyers, one Navy submarine and 200 aircraft from various services. An aircraft carrier that was in previous exercises won’t be here this year, and the exercise is smaller than in previous years, said Capt. Anastasia Wasem, Alaskan Command Public Affairs director. The exercise is the same size as planned last year and has not been scaled back, she said.
The Northern Edge training area is 24 nautical miles south of the Kenai Peninsula shoreline, with its middle about 104 nautical miles offshore.
The last Northern Edge exercise was held in 2011, when USS Decatur, an Arleigh-Burke Class destroyer, visited Homer. Northern Edge operates under marine, land and air permits issued in 2011 and 2013, and did an Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, and Overseas Impact Statement, or OIS. Last fall the Navy held hearings in Homer and elsewhere in Alaska on a supplemental EIS/OIS to extend its permits. The current permits expire in 2016.
Fishermen and other Homer residents protested against Northern Edge because it coincides with migrations of whales and salmon in an area vital to commercial and subsistence fisheries. The exercise will leave 350,000 pounds of waste, including 5 tons of hazardous materials, said Shelley Gill, one of the protest organizers. People at the rally also protested against the use of sonar and its effects on marine mammals.
Wasem said the 350,000-pound number is the maximum allowed under the permit during training, but she did not know the actual amount dumped in previous exercises.
In a press release, the Alaskan Command said when the Navy uses active sonar, it operates at the lowest practicable level except when required for training objectives. It said the training area was designed to avoid critical habitats, and although it does not avoid all fish and marine mammal habitats. It said, “the activities are infrequent and widely dispersed.”
One June 3, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also issued a 45-day call for comments on proposed regulations requiring the Navy to implement protective measures during its activities off Alaska, Washington, Oregon and northern California. The Navy has requested an authorization under the Marine Mammal Protection Act because mid-frequency active sonar and sound from detonating explosives could affect the behavior of some marine mammals due to temporary loss of hearing sensitivity and other injuries. NOAA can’t forbid the activity, but has the authority to require measures that reduce impacts to protected resources, said Jennie Lyons of NOAA Public Affairs.
For information on the proposed rules and the Navy’s application, visit www.nmfs.noaa.gov/permits/incidental.htm. Comments can be sent to the federal rulemaking portal at www.regulations.gov. Use the identifier 0648-BD89. Written comments can be sent to Jolie Harrison, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring MD 20910-3225.
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