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Navy: More training in Atlantic, Gulf won't affect wildlife

MARATHON, Fla. — The U.S. Navy on Friday released a final environmental impact statement that guides future explosive, sonar and gunner exercises occurring in more than 2.6 million square miles of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico including waters around the Florida Keys.

The Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing document was widely vetted by the Monroe County Commission, an advisory panel and hired consultants from firm Keith and Schnars.

The training increases are broad and include more air combat maneuvers such as dog fights between planes, from 5,700 per year up to 6,840; an increase in air platform testing from 10 to 12 per year; an increase in gunnery exercises from 36 to 70 per year involving 56,000 non-explosive rounds going into the water; flare exercises using more than 4,500 flares; and the annual release of 30,000 canisters of chaff, a radar-fooling countermeasure.

In a statement issued by U.S. Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., the military said, "The results of this study, which incorporates the best available science, coupled with the Navy's demonstrated track record, indicate that the activities proposed in this [statement] will continue to have minimal effects on marine mammal and other marine species populations."

County Commissioner Heather Carruthers said the county would continue to work with Navy officials to minimize local effects.

She cited work by Keith and Schnars, the county's Growth Management Department and members of an advisory environmental impact statement committee in vetting the study.

"I was really pleased with the work product but not quite so much with the Navy's response," she said. "But we're going to keep plugging away so they can perform their mission with as little impact as possible." Among concerns articulated to the Navy was the impact of training debris on dolphins and other marine life in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Lower Keys residents also are concerned about increased jet noise from Naval Air Station Key West.

The last comparable study was completed in 2009. The full document is available online at www.AFTTEIS.com.

Another Navy study affecting Monroe County residents made official last month lays out an increase in fighter-jet takeoffs and landings at NAS Key West's Boca Chica Field, along with a transition to the newer generation fighter jet, the F-35 Lightning II.

Navy officials plan to increase the number of flight operations out of Boca Chica from 47,500 annually up to 52,000 and gradually replaces the F-18 Super Hornet with the Lightning II.
 

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