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Plans to step up Navy training worry neighbors

Noise, environmental issues on Silver Strand
Tuesday, February 23, 2010 at 12:02 a.m.

K.C. Alfred
Members of Beachmaster Unit 1 conducted drills last week at the Navy’s Silver Strand Training Complex.

Photo by K.C. Alfred
The Navy wants to increase training activities at Silver Strand to 5,343 from 3,926 annually.

The Navy plans to increase training activity off the Coronado coast in order to meet accelerated sailor deployment demands and an increase in Marine Corps personnel requiring training.
The Navy wants to bolster its activity at the Silver Strand Training Complex and has issued a draft environmental impact statement concerning the changes. It will hold two public hearings on the matter.
• The first will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. today at the Imperial Beach Community Center, 825 Imperial Beach Blvd.
• The second will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Coronado Community Center, Nautilus Banquet Room, 1845 Strand Way.
Anyone wishing to submit comments to the Navy can send them to:
Naval Facilities Engineering Command, SouthwestAttn: Mr. Kent Randall – Silver Strand Training Complex EIS.1220 Pacific Highway, Building 1, 5th FloorSan Diego, CA 92132

A Navy landing craft moves through the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean and toward the beach. Precision is required because the surf zone can be demanding.
During the training operation in southern Coronado last week, members of a 300-person Navy team responsible for moving combat troops and equipment from ship to shore and providing them with logistic support controlled the landing craft.
“It’s a realistic training environment, and by practicing in these conditions, we can get better and better at it,” said Cmdr. Todd Perry, commanding officer of Beachmaster Unit 1.
To meet heavier training demands, the Navy is proposing ramping up activity at the Silver Strand Training Complex, including more helicopter flights, firearm discharges and use of sensitive land. That has some residents and environmentalists worried about what it will mean to neighborhoods, delicate bird habitat and vernal pools.
The Navy is studying the environmental effects of increased use of the 540-acre site where land, beach and offshore wartime training has been conducted for more than 60 years.
According to a draft environmental impact statement, the Navy proposes to increase the frequency of training activities to 5,343 from 3,926 annually. The Navy hopes to increase the number of helicopter sorties to 2,200 from 778 a year and firearm discharges to 1,400 from 150. It plans to use, with some limitations, the nesting areas of endangered birds and allow training on foot over vernal pools when dry.
While some proposed changes may occur immediately, most would happen over the next several years.
The Navy is looking for public comment on its plan; it has the final say on how it addresses the effect of the increased training.
“The amount of extra training they’re proposing would be quite noticeable and really change our quiet neighborhood,” Imperial Beach resident Jeff Foster said. “If it makes a big impact on the peace of the neighborhood, it won’t be a desirable place to live.”
Jim Peugh, conservation leader for the local chapter of the National Audubon Society, said that though he hasn’t read the Navy study sitting on his desk, his initial concerns are about the increased access to three ocean-to-beach training lanes that are off-limits from April through September, during the nesting season of the endangered California least tern and Western snowy plover. Access would only be allowed, however, if other shoreline areas are occupied, unavailable or less suitable for training.
“They have a lot of training lanes at North Island and Camp Pendleton,” Peugh said. “We can’t afford to lose tern habitat.”
Peugh said tern habitat at Mission Bay has had “lousy results” for years. He said a Navy program to protect nesting sites along the Silver Strand isthmus has been very successful. He said that a significant portion of the entire least tern population is at Silver Strand and that its protection is important.
Delphine Lee, project manager with the Navy’s Pacific Fleet, said no habitat would be lost. She said the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which is completing its review of the study, allows the Navy to “impact up to 450 nests a year.”
“There’s certainly a possibility of nests being hurt, but we had 1,700 nests last year and only 20 to 30 were adversely affected,” said Lee, who added that even if training were conducted in those three lanes, it’s likely no nests would be bothered.
The Navy is holding information and comment sessions for the public today and tomorrow. The first is at the Imperial Beach Community Center, the second at the Coronado Community Center. Both are from 6 to 7:30 p.m., and both will be preceded by an open house at 4 p.m.
The draft report found minimal effects in an array of areas, including land use, air quality, marine biological resources, fish, birds, and public health and safety. Cumulative effects to geology and soils “would be negligible,” the study found.
At the southern end of the Silver Strand Training Complex, near Imperial Beach, the study found that training would “increase the number of intrusive noise events.”
Foster is expecting a dramatic increase in noise from the number of proposed helicopter sorties.
“The gist of the report is that helicopter sorties will increase but the decibel level is the same, therefore there is no impact,” Foster said. “It ignores the fact there are more.”
Lee said the service wants all those with questions about the plan to forward their concerns. All comments received by March 9 will be addressed and incorporated into the final environmental report.
Navy officials say they need to supplement training to meet “aggressive schedules” for sailors and Marines at the complex sandwiched between Silver Strand State Beach and Imperial Beach. Naval Base Coronado is the West Coast hub for naval amphibious operations.
The training complex opened in the early 1950s, and those who train there include Navy SEALs, ordnance disposal teams and assault craft units. Troops with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force also conduct exercises.
City officials in Imperial Beach and Coronado say they are reviewing the draft document and would not comment before their studies are completed.
According to the Navy’s study, new types of training for detecting mines, as well as for amphibious and special-warfare operations, are being proposed at the training facility. The Navy plans to train in vernal pools north of Imperial Beach when the pools are dry. Lee said the Navy would establish a plan to monitor the pools, which are shallow depressions that fill during storms and provide a seasonal breeding ground for various species, some of them endangered. Officials say more Naval Special Warfare personnel and Marines are being trained in Coronado.
At the training operation at the complex last week, about 25 sailors on shore guided vehicles to and from the landing craft, which held about a dozen sailors. The rest of the Navy team remained aboard the dock landing ship Pearl Harbor just offshore.
“It’s much more difficult than it looks because of the surf and the underwater currents,” said Perry, who added that most of the sailors in the training exercise would be deployed to the Western Pacific. “They need to train in actual conditions.”