Officials of the Sun’aq Tribe say they are working hard to ensure subsistence and economic resources are not adversely impacted by the U.S. Navy’s planned military training activities that would involve use of live bombs, naval shells and active sonar near Kodiak Island.
Tom Lance, Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak’s natural resources director, said the U.S. Navy will begin the Northern Edge military readiness training activities in the Gulf of Alaska’s Temporary Marine Training Area (TMAA) from about June 15 to 29.
Lance said trainings have been held in the area in past years, but what is new for the two-week period — and for future trainings taking place annually — will be the use of live bombs, naval shells and active sonar.
The training area is about 300 nautical miles long by 150 nautical miles wide, stretching southeast from Kodiak Island. It covers a section of air, water and seafloor beginning from a point about 35 nautical miles offshore from Narrow Cape on Kodiak Island and heads southeast to the Applequist and Durgin Seamount vicinity.
The boundary line then trends north, toward Yakutat for about 150 nautical miles and then runs northwest, heading to a point about 12 nautical miles southwest of Montague Island. The boundary line then heads back southwest, toward Kodiak Island, in a slight arc northward.
Lance said the boundary is only about 25 nautical miles at the closest point to Kodiak City and residents are not even aware of the planned use of bombs and sonar that could affect the local fishing industry.
“Apparently, not many people here are paying attention or have heard about it,” Lance said, referring to the planned training. He said Kodiakans haven’t realized that, except for small excluded zones at seamounts and canyons, the training area encompasses some of the important fishing grounds right off the coast of Kodiak.
“The area just off Kodiak is called Portlock Bank, a very productive fishing area for all the commercial fishermen here,” he said.
He said Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak intends to campaign to ensure that some parts of the training would be prohibited until assurances can be made that marine resources would not be harmed.
Lance said he found it ironic that Navy officials have advertised plans to search for World War II-related ordnance that might be hazardous offshore from Kodiak in May.
Officials would try to remove bombs, he said, but the following month, during the Navy training, they would be depositing a few hundred thousand pounds of materials, some hazardous, into waters offshore from Kodiak and other coastal communities.
In 2011, the U.S. Navy updated its analysis of the potential impacts from ongoing military training activities conducted in the Temporary Maritime Activities Area or TMAA.
It said the air, land, and sea areas in the TMAA and around the Gulf of Alaska provide the training space and resources needed to realistically train U.S. service members to achieve and maintain military readiness.
In its Environmental Impact Statement, the U.S. Navy also discussed the incidental deaths of marine mammals under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and incidental deaths of threatened and endangered marine species under the Endangered Species Act. It also said current federal regulatory permits and authorizations, which are renewable every five years, will expire in May 2016.
“Marine mammals are the primary resource of concern for the cumulative impacts analysis,” the U.S. Navy said in its Summary of Environmental Effects. “Mammal species occurring in the Study Area may be impacted by multiple ongoing and future actions.”
It said, “explosive detonations and non-impulse sources, such as sonar … have the potential to disturb, injure, or kill marine mammals; however, there are very few injuries and no mortalities expected or predicted by the acoustic effect modeling.”
Lance said Navy officials were in Kodiak last fall, as they prepared a supplement to the Environmental Impact Study that would be released in 2016.
“But during the 2011 EIS, perhaps they did not make it well-known that they proposed to start using live ordnance and active sonar by the end of that period that they had on their EPA compliance form,” Lance said. “And so, that’s now.”
“All these years, since 2011 up until now, they’ve been working kind of quietly with the federal agencies to get a permit to start using live ordnance,” Lance said.
The Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak, a federally recognized tribal government headquartered in Kodiak, represents more than 1,700 Sun’aq citizens who reside on the island of Kodiak, on other islands in the Kodiak Archipelago, elsewhere in Alaska and other parts of the United States and abroad.
Sun’aq is one of 10 Alutiiq tribes that lived in large coastal villages along the shores of the Alaska Peninsula, the Kenai Peninsula, and the Kodiak Archipelago 7,500 to 8,000 years ago. Sun’aq people settled permanently where the city of Kodiak is now located about 2,500 years ago and interacted regularly with other tribes throughout the archipelago.
Lance said the Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak alone could not stop the planned U.S. Navy training.
“We don’t have deep pockets,” he said. “Perhaps the only way for more people to stop this is some sort of a lawsuit, if you want to go that route, or just call up your congressman or legislator or call the commanders at the Navy and say, ‘Look, we’re opposing this, please stop it till we talk more about this.’”
Lance said tribal members are very concerned because of the unknown long-term impacts to salmon, halibut, shellfish “and the big charismatic species, like whales and things like that.”
“The whole web of life out there revolves around all these species interacting,” Lance said, wondering what could be the ultimate damage to sensory systems of fish or whales because of sonar and bomb explosions.
“Granted it’s a large area, but what are the long-term impacts? They can’t say what are the long-term impacts — because they (Navy officials) don’t know,” he said.