Public: No to Navy's training, weapons testing; multiple environmental concerns raised at Eureka meeting

Speaker after speaker spoke critically of the U.S. Navy's plan to train and test weapons along the North Coast, and expressed concerns over potential environmental impacts during a public meeting at the Red Lion Hotel in Eureka on Thursday.

"We want you to bring the message that we want no project, we want no testing. We want peace," Northern Humboldt High School Trustee Dana Silvernale said.

During more than an hour of public comment, community members pleaded with the Navy to use simulations instead of active sonar testing, to consider the harm to marine life and to postpone the testing and training activities to explore other options. No one spoke in favor of the plan.

After each person -- including a woman dressed as a dolphin -- spoke, an audience of 120 applauded loudly and hollered cries of support. The Environmental Protection Information Center also circulated a petition.

One man, who served in the Navy for four years, said he fell in love with nature in the Navy when he heard mammals through the hull of a nuclear submarine.

"When we drove through schools of dolphins it sounded just like children playing in a school yard," he said. "We cannot afford to lose .... dolphins and whales because boys want to play with their toys."

Arcata resident Dave Meserve suggested the Navy use simulations instead.

"It's quite possible in this world of video games, in this world of advanced electronics, to do simulations," Meserve said. "Why can't you simulate the active sonar and have them see exactly what would be going on, him or her, without putting the sound out there that's destroying or harassing marine life?"

During the five year-training, which is scheduled to begin in 2015, the Navy will test sonar technology, electromagnetic devices and explosives, and perform training exercises off the coasts of Northern California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska if the federal regulatory permits are renewed. Humboldt County is located at the tip of the training area.

The training is necessary to "protect the United States from its enemies, protect and defend the rights of the United States and its allies to move freely on the oceans, and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to failed states," according to the introduction of a draft environmental impact statement.

Public comment on the 2,000-page draft, which reviews the potential for environmental factors, including marine life, natural habitats and air quality, is due by March 25. The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted to send a letter to the Navy last week asking for the comment period to be extended.

The Navy is also seeking authorization from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Marine Fisheries Service to perform training exercises and tests which may potentially kill, harass or harm marine mammals.

A final environmental impact statement is scheduled to be released to the public in the summer of 2015.

Lorna Rodriguez can be reached at 441-0506 or lrodriguez@times-standard.com. Follow her on Twitter @LornaARodriguez.

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