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Judge OK’s construction of Undersea Warfare Training Range near right whale habitat

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A US District Judge has ruled against NRDC and others who had challenged the Navy’s permit to build an instrumented training range off the coast of Georgia and Florida, claiming that construction should not proceed until the Navy completes the full EIS for the training activities that will take place there.  Construction is slated to begin within a couple of years, with training commencing sometime around 2018; the range would have about 300 sensors installed on the ocean floor over an area of about 500 square miles, and would host training missions involving submarines, surface ships, and airplanes.

The Undersea Warfare Training Range (USWTR) would begin 50 miles offshore, while a key winter birthing and nursing ground for North Atlantic right whales extends out to 20 miles offshore.  Only about 400 North Atlantic right whales remain, with ship strikes being a major concern, along with the effects of any additional stress on mothers or young whales near the Navy’s operations. “We understand that’s the right whale’s critical habitat,” said Jene Nissen, the range’s program director. “We looked at the type of effects that training could have on right whales, and we are confident it will be very minimal.”  Construction will be suspended from November to April, when the whales are migrating and congregating in the birthing grounds, but the Navy has not agreed to suspend training in those months, or to comply with offshore speed limits imposed on private and commercial ships, saying that this would interfere with their ability to carry out realistic and effective training.

The groups that filed the suit in 2010 are considering an appeal; Sharon Young of the Humane Society of the United States stressed that “We certainly would never argue to undermine our national defense, but it’s also reasonable to ask the military not to jeopardize a species that is just barely hanging on.”

See more AEInews coverage of the USWTR here.

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