The Navy is seeking public input concerning potential environmental impacts from fleet training and testing conducted in the Atlantic Ocean, including the waters of the Gulf of Maine.

The Navy has scheduled meetings starting next month up and down the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts as it prepares an environmental impact statement covering the 2.6 million nautical square mile study area. The closest meeting to Maine is at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston from 4 to 8 p.m. Aug. 23.

John Van Name, program manager of the team preparing the environmental impact statement, said the process requires seeking authorization under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which prohibits the hunting, capture, killing or harassment of marine mammals. The Navy uses explosives and sonar in its training, which can disturb marine life. Van Name said that even with the authorization, the Navy is not allowed to interfere with the endangered right whale.

The Navy last received authorization under the protection act in 2009. The authorization expires in 2014, so the Navy is preparing for that, Van Name said.

“It requires a lot of analysis and public input and discussion and takes up to three years to get an environmental impact statement through the process,” Van Name said.

He did not have information on past impacts of its training and testing, but said that would be available during the comment process.

The meeting in Boston will provide detailed information, which should be available at some point online at www.aftteis.com, a website created by the Naval Facilities Engineering Command in Norfolk, Va., where the public may also submit comments.

In the past, Maine environmental groups have opposed efforts by the military to relax rules that apply to them under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, but it is unclear how involved they will be in the current process. Several groups, such as the Friends of Casco Bay, said they were unaware of the public comment period or the environmental impact statement.

Mary Beth Nickell-Tooley, one of Maine’s representatives on the New England Fishery Management Council, which oversees the groundfish industry, said it is not yet clear how involved the council will be.

“It depends on the extent to which it affects the fish habitat,” she said.

Fishing vessels must also receive authorization to operate under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The public comment period ends Sept. 14. A draft environmental impact statement will then be released, followed by another public comment period and public hearings. Final approval of the environmental statement is up to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

 

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

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