My Turn: Navy training impact war-like on Hawaii

The deadline for public comment on the Navy’s Draft Environmental Assessment (DEA) for its proposal to conduct special operations training along the Kona and Kohala coastlines is Monday.

This training would deploy up to 46 Navy personnel on aircraft, vessels, vehicles, on foot, and in the water for up to 72 hours at a time, up to 10 times per year. The Navy says these activities will have little or no impact on the environment, marine life, cultural resources, or the community. The following reasons point out why the Navy’s plans for expanded training on the west coast of Hawaii Island under the guise of “training scenario variety” is nothing more than a thinly veiled effort to increase the military’s already expansive footprint across the Hawaiian islands.

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A. The Navy’s proposed training areas lie within the boundaries of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary around the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Oahu. Under federal law, the Navy is required to formally consult with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, however, there is no evidence of such consultation in the DEA.

B. Even though federal law requires any government agency proposing an action “significantly affecting the quality of the human environment” to conduct a detailed analysis of the environmental impacts of the proposed action, the Navy fails to examine the impacts of its proposed activities on water quality and fails to examine the impacts of underwater noise on marine life. The DEA states that these resource areas were not addressed in DEA because the potential impacts of the Navy’s training would be “negligent or non-existent.”

How does the Navy know its proposed actions will have negligent or non-existent impacts if it doesn’t even analyze them? Hawaii Island’s west coast waters are among the cleanest, clearest, and most biologically diverse in the state. Healthy coral reefs, spinner dolphins, and critically endangered Hawaiian monk seals are plentiful, and the area is one of the primary breeding grounds for humpback whales. Though the Navy continues to discount the impacts of underwater noise on marine life, especially marine mammals, valid scientific studies have consistently documented the harmful effects of anthropogenic noise on marine animals, including alternations in behavior and permanent or temporary hearing loss, which likely have contributed to the many marine mammal mass stranding events in recent years.

C. The Navy’s Best Management Practices for interactions with marine mammals outlined in the DEA directly conflict with humpback whale NMS regulations regarding vessel and aircraft approach distances.

D. The DEA’s analysis of potential impacts to cultural resources is woefully inadequate with regards to Hawaii Island. The document makes absolutely no mention of the Ala Kahakai Trail, managed by the National Park Service (NPS) for the preservation, protection, and interpretation of traditional Native Hawaiian culture and natural resources. The trail, a recent addition to the National Historic Trails program, runs right through the entirety of both proposed training areas on Hawaii Island’s west coast. Aside from Lapakahi State Historical Park, the DEA also fails to mention the hundreds of Native Hawaiian cultural sites along the South and North Kohala coast.

E. The DEA completely fails to address the impacts of the presence of Navy personnel, aircraft, vehicles, vessels, etc. on Native Hawaiian culture, and on the community. We know this can be a difficult concept for the military to grasp but saying there is no impact on cultural resources or practices just because the Navy training “would not restrict the ability of individuals to use or access sites” is short-sighted and completely misses the bigger picture of Hawaiian culture and the importance of place and its relationship to the environment.

F. Federal law requires the Navy to justify why it needs to conduct a proposed action in a certain place, as opposed to a different place. The Navy’s claim that it cannot provide combat ready forces unless it conducts training on the Big Island’s west coast is without merit. The U.S. government is the second largest land owner in the State; the federal footprint covers over 500,000 acres or almost 13 percent of the state’s land. Nothing in the DEA justifies why the Navy cannot conductdiverse and productive training at any one of the huge military bases in the state (JBPHH, Marine Corps Base Kaneohe, PMRF, Pohakula Training Center, Schofield Barracks, etc.), or for that matter, at any of the national parks in the state, instead of on a relatively undisturbed stretch of coastline rich in natural and cultural resources and treasured by the local community and tourists alike.

In summary, the Navy’s DEA does not comply with federal law requiring analysis of the potential impacts of a proposed action. Conducting Navy training in an area of significant natural and cultural resources treasured by the community when there are other more appropriate locations is just plain wrong. These natural and cultural resources are sacred and revered by the community and by visitors from around the state, the mainland, and the world. Navy training will disrupt these activities for everyone and will forever alter the unique land- and sea-scape of Hawaii Island.

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You can view the DES at https://go.usa.gov/xUnDC. Click on “Environmental Assessment Open for Review” at bottom of left-hand column. You can email your comments to NFPAC­Receive(a),navy.mil. You can also sign (and share!) a petition opposing the Navy training at https://bit.ly/2DoJAfO.

David Swatland is a retired captain in the U.S. Coast Guard and Kapaau resident.