Military ignored conditions set by state regulators on undersea warfare exercises

The Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) established a regulatory regime to create more consistency in regulating coastal resources, by delegating certain regulatory powers to approved state CZM agencies. This means that on matters of Coastal Zone Management, the federal government should be in accordance with the regulatory guidelines set by the Hawai’i CZM agency. However, in its 2008 annual report, the Hawaii Coastal Zone Management Program reported that in several instances, the U.S. military simply “issued a notice of intent to proceed over both the conditions and objection” of the Hawaii CZM Program. One instance involved the use of sonar and live fire exercises by the Navy undersea warfare exercises (USWEX). The other involved the Navy Hawaii Range Complex. There have been reports of massive fish kill off the island of Ni’ihau and Kaua’i and dead whales washing ashore on Ni’ihau and Kaua’i. It was reported by the Hawaii Independent that the Navy and the DARPA conducted classified exercises in the vicinity of Ni’ihau and Kaua’i during a USWEX event in the Hawaii Range Complex. Here’s an excerpt from the 2008 Hawaii CZM Program annual report:

Federal Consistency Program

The CZMA requires federal agencies to conduct their planning, management, development, and regulatory activities in a manner consistent with federally-approved state CZM programs. The informational and procedural requirements for CZM federal consistency reviews are prescribed by federal regulations.

Because there is a significant federal presence in Hawaii, federal consistency is a valuable State management tool. Federal planning, regulatory, and construction activities have direct and significant effects on land and water environments statewide.

The federal government controls vast tracts of land. The range of federal activities and permits reviewed is extensive and includes harbor projects, beach nourishment projects, military facilities and training exercises, fisheries management plans and regulations, open ocean aquaculture, and dredge and fill operations. In addition, projects funded by certain federal grant programs are reviewed for potential impacts to CZM resources.

Public notices for all federal consistency reviews are published in The Environmental Notice.

The following are noteworthy examples of federal consistency activities:

1. Makua Military Reservation Training Activities: The U.S. Army’s live-fire training exercises at Makua Military Reservation on Oahu were reviewed for impacts on resources in areas beyond the reservation. The reservation itself is a federal area that is excluded from CZM review. However, the CZM Program was concerned about the effects of live-fire training, particularly wildfire on State natural area reserves, critical habitat for endangered species, and historic and cultural resources. Federal consistency negotiations with the Army resulted in mitigation measures to ensure protection of natural and cultural resources.

2. U.S. Navy Undersea Warfare Exercises (USWEX): The CZM Program reviewed a series of USWEX, which are anti-submarine exercises involving the use of mid-frequency active sonar in waters around the State. The primary concern with sonar is its potential to harm marine mammals such as whales and monk seals. USWEX also involves land-based training exercises such as aerial bombing of Kaula Island off of Kauai and Pohakuloa Training Area on the Island of Hawaii. Operational conditions and mitigation measures were required for the sonar use for consistency with CZM enforceable policies. An objection was issued over the use of Kaula Island until a monitoring plan and baseline survey of birds is completed. In response to the Program’s consistency decision, the Navy issued a notice of intent to proceed over both the conditions and objection.

3. U.S. Navy Hawaii Range Complex (HRC): The HRC is one of the Navy’s range complexes used for training operational forces and military systems. The HRC covers 235,000 square nautical miles around the Main Hawaiian Islands, and a 2.1 million square nautical mile Temporary Operating Area of sea and airspace. The biennial Rim of the Pacific naval exercise is included as one of the major activities covered by the review. One of the primary concerns was the Navy’s use of mid-frequency active sonar and its impacts on marine mammals. The CZM Program required mitigation measures for the sonar use to be consistent with CZM enforceable policies. An objection was issued to the use of Kaula Island for bombing until a monitoring plan and baseline survey of birds is completed, and the development and operation of a directed energy (laser) weapon facility at the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, until potential hazards are identified and operating procedures and safety requirements are developed. The Navy declined to agree and issued a notice of intent to proceed over the conditions requiring sonar mitigation and the objection to the bombing of Kaula Island. However, the Navy is developing a management plan for seabirds at Kaula in response to the CZM review and also agreed to submit a separate CZM review for the directed energy facility when the details are developed.

4. Hawaii Superferry Security Zones: The CZM Program issued federal consistency concurrences for the U.S. Coast Guard to establish security zones for the Hawaii Superferry at Nawiliwili Harbor, Kauai and Kahului Harbor, Maui. The security zones were necessary in consideration of the large number of protestors who prevented the Superferry from entering Nawiliwili Harbor. The Program’s consistency concurrence ensured that public access was maintained by requiring that canoe and boating clubs, small commercial businesses, and Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners be given consideration for access to resources during the activation of the security zone. The Program also required that when the security zone is inactive, public access to and use of established public areas in and around Nawiliwili Harbor and Kahului Harbor be allowed.

The Hawaii CZM Program facilitates cooperation among government agencies in reviewing applications for federal, State, and County permits. Also, pre-application consultation is highly encouraged. Consultations occur by telephone and email, as well as through meetings involving applicants and agencies.

The CZM Program continued its involvement with the federal and State agency coordination initiative involving quarterly meetings with regulatory and resource agencies, and various branches of the military. The meetings are hosted by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command and the U.S. Navy. This forum provides the participating agencies an opportunity to discuss and coordinate on current and future projects, activities, and issues.

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