Public Comment Period Extended for NWTT Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS
The Navy has extended the public comment period for the Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS an additional 15 days to June 12, 2019.

Frequently asked questions are provided for additional project information.

1. Why is the Navy preparing a Supplemental EIS/OEIS?

The Navy is preparing the Supplemental EIS/OEIS to:

  • Update the 2015 Northwest Training and Testing (NWTT) Final EIS/OEIS, which was completed with public input in October 2015 and for which a Record of Decision was signed in October 2016.
  • Support proposed ongoing and future training and testing activities conducted at sea and in associated airspace within the Study Area  beyond 2020.
  • Incorporate new information from an updated acoustic effects model, more recent marine species density data, and most current and best available science and analytical methods.
  • Support the reissuance of federal regulatory permits and authorizations by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
  • Update at-sea training and testing activities based on evolving requirements.
  • Reassess the potential environmental impacts associated with conducting proposed ongoing and future training and testing activities within the Study Area.

2. What are the proposed alternatives?

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)  requires federal agencies to evaluate a range of reasonable alternatives to achieve the purpose of and need for the Proposed Action. Using the most current and best available science and analytical methods, the Navy evaluated the potential environmental impacts of three alternatives, including a No Action Alternative, in the Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS.

  • Alternative 1, the Navy’s Preferred Alternative, includes conducting military readiness activities into the reasonably foreseeable future to meet current and future readiness requirements, and it includes the potential for an increase of approximately 300 aircraft flights per year in the Olympic Military Operations Areas. Alternative 1 includes new activities as well as previously analyzed activities that are ongoing or have historically occurred in the Study Area. Alternative 1 reflects a representative year of training and testing to account for the natural fluctuation of training cycles, testing programs, and deployment schedules that generally limit the maximum level of training and testing from occurring for the reasonably foreseeable future. Under Alternative 1, the Navy assumes some unit-level training would be conducted using synthetic means, e.g., simulators.
  • Alternative 2 includes all activities described under Alternative 1. Alternative 2 also includes additional adjustments to types and levels of activities to reflect the maximum number of training and testing activities that could occur within a given year and assumes this maximum level of activity would occur for the reasonably foreseeable future. Alternative 2 would allow for the greatest flexibility for the Navy to maintain readiness when considering potential changes in the national security environment, fluctuations in schedules, and anticipated demands.
  • The Navy analyzed a No Action Alternative in which Marine Mammal Protection Act authorization would not be issued by NMFS, thus the Navy would not conduct the proposed at-sea training and testing activities in the Study Area. Other military activities not associated with this Proposed Action would continue. Under this alternative, the purpose of and need for the Proposed Action would not be met. 
     

3. What are the key updates to the 2015 NWTT Final EIS/OEIS resulting in the need for the Supplemental EIS/OEIS?

In the Supplemental EIS/OEIS, the Navy: 

  • Included a No Action Alternative in which Marine Mammal Protection Act authorization would not be issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service; therefore, proposed training and testing activities would not be conducted.
  • Included analyses of both increases and decreases in training and testing activities from current levels.
  • Recategorized or renamed many testing activities for consistency.  
  • Assessed potential acoustic impacts on marine species using an updated acoustic effects model, updated marine species criteria and thresholds, and more recent marine species density data.
  • Used the most current and best available science and analytical methods.
  • Reviewed procedural mitigation measures and considered geographic mitigation measures.
  • Analyzed the impact of aircraft noise over the Olympic Peninsula.

4. Why does the Navy train and test in the Study Area?

  • To succeed in combat or an emergency, Sailors must be ready to respond to many different situations when called upon. The skills needed to achieve readiness are challenging to master and require constant practice. Training and testing activities must be diverse and as realistic as possible to prepare Sailors for what they will experience in real-world situations to ensure their success and survival.
  • The Navy has historically used certain areas in the Pacific Northwest for training and testing activities, and has been operating within Puget Sound since 1841. Navy training and testing areas within the Study Area provide a safe and realistic environment for training Sailors and testing systems. The proximity of these areas to naval homeports allows for:
    • Greater efficiencies during training and testing.
    • Shorter transit times.
    • Reduced fuel use, cost, and emissions.
    • Reduced wear and tear on vessels, submarines, and aircraft.
    • Increased safety with closer proximity to airfields, medical facilities, and maintenance facilities on land.
    • Access to established at-sea and shore training and testing infrastructure, such as instrumented ranges.
    • Maximized at-sea training time, therefore reducing Sailors’ time away from their families.
       

5. Can’t you use simulators for training and testing?

  • When possible, Sailors use simulators and other advanced technologies when training and testing. Simulation, however, can only work at the basic operator level and cannot completely replace training and testing in a live environment. Lack of realistic training will jeopardize the lives of Navy personnel in real-life combat situations.
  • Despite advancements and improvements to simulator technology, there are still limits to the realism technology can provide. 
    • Simulation cannot provide the real-world accuracy and level of training needed to prepare naval forces for deployment.
    • Simulation cannot replicate a high-stress environment, including the sounds, visuals, and adrenaline, nor the complexity in coordinating with other military personnel.
    • Simulation cannot replicate dynamic environments involving numerous military forces and cannot accurately model sound in complex training environments.

6. Will the Navy use sonar in the Study Area?

  • Yes. The Navy proposes to continue to conduct training and testing activities, which continue to include the use of active sonar while employing marine species mitigation measures within the Study Area. The Navy reanalyzed the potential environmental effects of sonar use in the Supplemental EIS/OEIS.
  • For decades, the Navy has used various types of passive and active sonar for at-sea training and testing in the Study Area and has analyzed those activities in previous environmental documents.

7. What is the importance of testing at the Southeast Alaska Acoustic Measurement Facility (SEAFAC)?

  • For submarines, SEAFAC is the Navy’s primary acoustic engineering measurement facility in the Pacific Ocean. It provides the testing capability to determine the source of a submarine’s acoustic noise, assess vulnerability, and develop quieting measures.
  • The location of SEAFAC was chosen for several reasons:
    • Large area with water depth sufficient to allow the submarine to operate over its full operational capability.
    • Quiet waters away from commercial traffic and open-ocean noise to allow measurements to be made without the signature of the submarine being contaminated with other noises.
    • Near the city of Ketchikan, which provides infrastructure (power and telephone), shipping, logistics support, and other supplies and support services. 
       

8. Does sonar from Navy ships harm marine mammals?

  • Different species of marine mammals have widely varying sensitivities to sound based on frequency. This is a reflection of how different species have evolved to cope with life in the marine environment, including differences in size, prey, habitats, and the predators they try to avoid. 
  • The most current and best available science indicates that effects from sonar depend on how loud the sound is, how close the animal is to the sound source, movement of the animal, and the duration of exposure. 
  • Research has provided several indicators that Navy training and testing activities are unlikely to have long-term consequences on marine mammal populations. Some species have displayed short-term behavioral responses following certain activities. 
  • The Navy, NMFS, and independent scientists are working to improve the state of science and our understanding of this complicated question through research into how sonar use affects marine mammals, and finding ways to minimize any effects. 
     

9. Where can I find more information about sonar and the effects on marine mammals?

To learn more about marine mammals, sonar, and sound in the water, and the Navy’s ocean stewardship programs, visit:

10. Why is at-sea training and testing with explosives necessary? Why can’t the Navy use non-explosive ordnance?

  • To the extent possible, Sailors train and conduct tests using inert (non-explosive) practice munitions. Non-explosives, however, cannot completely replace at-sea training and testing in a live environment.
  • Testing with explosives is essential to verify that systems will function properly in the environments they will be used.
  • Training in a high-stress environment, including the use of and exposure to explosive ordnance, is necessary for Sailors to be fully prepared to respond to emergencies, national security threats, and to ensure their safety.
  • Training and testing at sea with in-water explosives is limited, occurs only in established operating areas, and only after the Navy issues notices to mariners and pilots to ensure public safety. 

11. How much money does the Navy spend on marine mammal research?

  • The Navy has committed approximately $250 million over the past decade to marine mammal and sound in water research. This research has generated more than 800 open-source publications.
  • The Navy funds research on:
    • Detecting and tracking marine mammals.
    • Understanding marine mammal behavioral responses to sound. 
    • Establishing hearing thresholds; determining species location and abundance.
    • Mitigating the effects of underwater sound to assist environmental planners, range operators, regulatory agencies, and other stakeholders in making informed decisions as part of the permitting process for Navy at-sea training and testing activities. 
  • Data and reports from scientific research and monitoring help environmental regulators, scientists, and the Navy to:
    • Better understand the abundance, distribution, foraging, reproduction, physiology, hearing and sound production, behavior, and ecology of marine species, which is needed to assess the effects on species from naval activities. Assess behavioral responses of marine species to sonar and explosives.
    • Develop and improve models to better predict potential effects of underwater sound and explosives on marine species.
    • Develop effective protective measures.
  • As the vast majority of these activities take place on ranges, the Navy commits significant funding and manpower to improve understanding of the behavior and abundance of marine mammals within and in near proximity to these areas. In addition, the Navy maintains a scientifically robust marine mammal monitoring program specific to the Northwest. This program has been ongoing since 2011. 
     

12. Will there be impacts on marine mammals from the Proposed Action?

Implementation of any action alternative may affect certain species, but is not expected to decrease the overall health or survival of any population. Almost all predicted effects are behavioral responses and would cause no injury or mortality.

13. What measures are implemented to protect marine life?

Avoiding impacts from at-sea training and testing on the marine environment is an important goal for the Navy. The Navy employs standard operating procedures and protective measures during sonar use as well as additional event-specific mitigation measures.

14. Would the Navy limit public access to certain areas?

  • The Navy trains and conducts tests in a manner that is compatible with civilian activities at sea.
  • Sailors share the ocean and coastal areas with the community and recognize the importance of public access. The Navy strives to be good neighbors by minimizing access restrictions and limiting the extent and duration of closures of public areas whenever possible while ensuring safety at all times. 
  • When certain training and testing activities are scheduled, notices to mariners are published for public awareness and safety, helping mariners plan accordingly to avoid Navy activities. The Coast Guard publishes and broadcasts notices to mariners with location, activity, and duration information. Mariners are requested to read and adhere to the published notices.
  • The Navy has designated airspace and marine areas to indicate where and when it may not be safe for civilian activities to take place. 

15. How does the Navy ensure its training and testing activities do not cause safety issues?

  • The safety of the public and Navy personnel is of utmost importance. The Navy implements multiple safety precautions when planning and conducting at-sea training and testing activities. These measures, along with the cooperation of the public, enable safe at-sea training and testing. Some precautionary measures include:
    • Ensuring hazard areas are clear of people prior to potentially dangerous activities.
    • Canceling or delaying activities if public or personnel safety is a concern.
    • Notifying the public of the location, date, time, and duration of potentially dangerous activities.
    • Implementing temporary access restrictions to training and testing areas when appropriate to ensure public safety.
    • Conducting thorough environmental and safety reviews for all test systems before going into the water, with early-stage testing in controlled environments to support decisions to test in the marine environment.
  • The Coast Guard publishes and broadcasts notices to mariners with location, activity, and duration information. Mariners are requested to read and adhere to the published notices.
     

16. What is the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) public involvement process?

  • The Navy requests public and government agency input at several stages throughout the NEPA process . The public participates in the process by helping to:
    • Identify the scope of the analysis, including potential environmental issues and viable alternatives during the scoping period.
    • Evaluate and provide substantive comments on the draft environmental analysis during the Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS public review and comment period.
    • Review the Final Supplemental EIS/OEIS and Navy responses to substantive comments received on the Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS. 
  • All substantive public comments are considered by the decision maker prior to making a decision.
     

17. Who decides whether or not to implement the Proposed Action?

The Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Energy, Installations, and Environment) is the decision maker regarding the selection and implementation of an alternative. The decision is based on many factors, including the details of the environmental analyses, breadth of public comment, recommendations from Navy commands, and mission requirements.

18. Who will provide independent oversight of the Navy’s environmental analysis?

The Navy requests and actively solicits feedback and comments from the public, government agencies, elected officials, and nongovernmental organizations. Substantive public comments will be considered and incorporated into the Final Supplemental EIS/OEIS, as applicable. Additionally, several federal and state agencies have regulatory authority and oversee Navy activities in the Study Area.

19. Will my input actually have any impact on this process?

  • Yes, the purpose of the public review and comment period is to provide information to the public about the Proposed Action and to solicit comments on the Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS environmental analysis. The Navy welcomes and appreciates your substantive comments.
  • All substantive comments received during the comment period will be reviewed and considered in the preparation of the Final Supplemental EIS/OEIS.
     

20. When will the Final Supplemental EIS/OEIS be ready?

  • The Final Supplemental EIS/OEIS is expected in summer 2020 and the Record of Decision is expected in fall 2020. Please know that the release dates may change. The Navy’s focus is to ensure that accurate and complete information and data, including your comments, are collected and appropriately analyzed. 
  • When documents are available, a notice will be published in the Federal Register and in local newspapers, and the document will be available to view and download on this website.