PUBLIC INVOLVEMENT

The Navy solicits public involvement on NEPA and Executive Order 12114 processes and documentation as well as on research and related documentation required for SURTASS LFA sonar permits. Recently, the Navy made the Draft and Final versions of the 2019 Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement/Supplemental Overseas Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS/SOEIS) for SURTASS LFA sonar available for public access, review, and comment. The following are details of the public’s involvement in the development and preparation of the latest documentation and permit processes for SURTASS LFA sonar.

The Department of the Navy, with the National Marine Fisheries Service as a cooperating agency, prepared the fifth SEIS/SOEIS for SURTASS LFA sonar in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act and Executive Order 12114. The SEIS/SOEIS evaluated the potential environmental impacts associated with two action alternatives and a No-Action Alternative to the following resource areas: air quality, marine environment, biological, and economic. Public comments on the Draft SEIS/SOEIS were received from two federal agencies, two State agencies, and one group of non-governmental organizations. The Final SEIS/SOEIS was completed and made available to the public in June 2019 and incorporated all public comments received on the Draft SEIS/SOEIS as well as responses to those comments. After a 30-day public comment period, during which no comments were received, the Navy selected Alternative 2, the Preferred Action Alternative, which is documented in its Record of Decision, available for download here.

The Navy submitted an application for rulemaking and a letter of authorization (LOA) under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) to take marine mammals incidental to the use of SURTASS LFA sonar for training and testing activities in the western and central North Pacific and eastern Indian oceans. As part of the permit process, NMFS notified the public that it had received a request for rulemaking and an LOA for SURTASS LFA sonar training and testing activities. Later when NMFS had prepared a Proposed Rule for SURTASS LFA sonar, NMFS made it available to the public and asked for review and comments. Public comments on the Proposed Rule were incorporated into the 2019 MMPA Final Rule for SURTASS LFA sonar.

Additionally, the Navy submitted a Biological Evaluation to initiate Section 7 consultation under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In its ESA Biological Opinion, NMFS determined that the proposed action is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of threatened and endangered species under NMFS’s jurisdiction and is not likely to destroy or adversely modify designated critical habitat over the period of the proposed seven-year MMPA rule and letter of authorization, and into the reasonably foreseeable future. The 2019 Biological Opinion for SURTASS LFA sonar training and testing activities, which includes the Incidental Take Statement, was signed on July 30, 2019, becoming effective August 12, 2019, when the MMPA Final Rule and LOA were authorized.

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