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Florida county: Navy should redo Key West environmental report

Monroe County, Fla., will ask the U.S. Navy to toss out its draft environmental impact statement for increased operations at Naval Air Station Key West and start over.

When it meets Wednesday at the Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center in Key Largo, the commission is expected to OK a 12-page letter to be sent to Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southeast in Jacksonville that outlines 41 specific concerns. They're mostly related to increased aircraft noise.

The voluminous draft EIS details existing conditions at the Lower Keys military base and considers three alternatives that would increase flight training and, subsequently, how the associated jet noise would impact area residents and the environment.

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"Monroe County cannot support any of the action alternatives at this time. Therefore, we respectfully request that the Navy withdraw" the draft EIS, the letter says.

Commissioner Kim Wigington calls the letter "protective" and explained that by asking for a withdrawal, the county is asking the Navy to start over on the draft-stage EIS, including a re-evaluation of current conditions.

Of the four options -- three alternatives and taking no action -- the most extreme would increase flight operations from the current 47,500 to a maximum of 57,000, in addition to swapping the F-18 Super Hornet for the newer, and in some instances louder, F-35 Lightning II.

Part of the county objection to the action alternatives is the assessment of ongoing operations at NAS Key West.

"We are concerned that the baseline condition ... does not accurately reflect current conditions. Without an accurate baseline condition, the analysis of the proposed alternative is flawed."

Monroe County already has an ordinance that defines the area impacted by Navy jet noise and how the military and county can collaborate on zoning and development issues. That area, running from Stock Island west along the Keys to Bay Point, encompasses some 2,532 developed properties, according to county Growth Management staff.

NAS Key West spokeswoman Trice Denny says public comments are incorporated into the EIS, answered by subject-area experts, reviewed by federal decision-makers and included in the final document.
 

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