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Hawaii Court Imposes Additional Mitigation on Sonar Trainings

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Hawaii Court Adds Restrictions to Navy Sonar Training – A Federal District Court in Hawaii has issued a preliminary injunction forcing the Navy to use additional safety measures during routine mid-frequency sonar training in Hawaii waters; Judge David Ezra will hold another hearing in April to consider long-term measures. The restrictions are slightly less strict than those imposed by a different District Court in California: Ezra increased the safety zone in which sonar must be powered down by 6db, from the Navy’s 1000m to 1500m, and sonar must be shut down if a whale is within 500, rather than 200m as they Navy planned. Other court-ordered measures include staying 12 miles offshore, and prohibiting sonar use with multiple ships in areas with rapid changes in depth and narrow channels (the Navy now generally avoids such areas, but has in the past stressed the need to use some particular areas in Hawaii for such training, after being sure whales are not present). U.S. Pacific Fleet said in a statement that the restrictions “could seriously impact our ability to train effectively.” Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff said he’ll be seeking a permanent injunction. The order issued by Ezra will “have influence on the way in which they (the Navy) do any exercises from now on in Hawai’i,” he added. It is unclear how this ruling will factor into the Navy’s forthcoming first-ever Hawaii Training Range EIS, to be released this spring and meant to govern all sonar training in the area. Ezra’s order seems to be trying to protect whales from exposures on the edge of the Navy’s safety threshold of 173dB (which he suggested should be lower), by expanding the safety zone and ordering power to be reduced in more circumstances.  His approach to balancing training needs and environmental concerns was somewhat more flexible than provisions imposed by other courts, including a graduated decrease of sonar power when 1, 2, or 3 specified environmental conditions are present.  Still, some of those conditions (including surface ducts and choke points) are considered important to the Navy for some training sessions. 
Sources: Honolulu Advertiser, 3/1/08 [READ ARTICLE] Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 3/1/08 [READ ARTICLE] KITV, 3/1/08 [READ ARTICLE, SEE VIDEO] 

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