Monday, February 22, 2010
The Navy wants to increase training exercises at Naval Air Station North Island. Public hearings will be held on February 23 and 24 to review the Silver Strand Training Complex draft environmental impact study. We discuss what the new naval training complex would entail and the key findings of the environmental impact study.
The Draft EIS will be available for public review and comment for through March 9, 2010. The Draft EIS will be available electronically, and also will be available in designated public libraries (see below). The public is invited to submit comments on the alternatives evaluated and the impact analyses presented in this draft document. Prior to the close of the public comment period, public hearings will be held to take oral and written comments. Comments also may be submitted via this website (click here) or mailed to:
Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Southwest
Attention: Mr. Kent Randall
Silver Strand Training Complex EIS
1220 Pacific Highway, Building 1, 5th Floor
San Diego, CA 92132
All public and agency comments received by the Navy will be addressed in the Final EIS.
Tuesday, Feb 23, 2010
Imperial Beach City Hall Community Room
825 Imperial Beach Blvd.
Imperial Beach, CA 91932
Wednesday, Feb 24, 2010
Coronado Community Center
1845 Strand Way
Coronado, CA 92118
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The Navy is conducting an open house this week in Imperial Beach to discuss its plans to beef up activities at the Silver Strand Training Complex. Military officials say their proposal is to increase the frequency and types of training at the facility. Joining us to explain what kind of changes are proposed and what kind of training is going on at the Silver Strand complex is my guest, Delfin Lee, Navy Pacific Fleet project manager for the Silver Strand Training Complex Draft Environmental Impact Study. Delfin, welcome to These Days.
DELFIN LEE (Navy Project Manager, Silver Strand Training Complex Impact Study): Thanks for having me, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: What would this new Naval training complex entail?
LEE: Okay, so the Silver Strand Training Complex is composed of two different areas. We have the Silver Strand North, which is north of the Silver Strand State Beach, and Silver Strand South, which is in between Silver Strand State Beach and Imperial Beach. And then in addition to the Silver Strand Training Complex, we’re also including in this environmental impact statement the southern near-shore areas of the Naval Air Station North Island.
CAVANAUGH: Now, are we talking about a lot of new construction going in?
LEE: No, there would actually be no new construction proposed as part of this Environmental Impact Statement. We’re also not proposing to expand the training complex, so what we’re really looking at is continuing current training, which is actually the largest portion of this proposed action and then increasing the frequency of training. So same types of training, increasing the frequency and then adding a couple of additional types of training.
CAVANAUGH: And so for those of us unfamiliar with the types of training going on at that complex right now, tell us a little bit of what’s going on there.
LEE: Okay, so there’s basically three different types of training that occur at the Silver Strand Training Complex. You have what we call amphibious operations, and that’s mainly getting personnel, equipment and vehicles and craft from an offshore ship onto the shore. And so you’re transporting, you know, containers, and the idea is if a – you know, if the party wants to establish a beach camp on shore or, you know, do a – conduct a raid onto the shore, it’s to train the sailors in how to do that. So that’s one of the three different types of training. The second is Naval Special Warfare. I think we all know about the SEALs. And so the Silver Strand Training Complex has what we call the BUDS School, it’s a basic Underwater Demolition SEAL school and it’s a qualification program for all SEAL recruits. So basically any person that wants to become a SEAL would have to go through training through this BUDS program at Silver Strand Training Complex.
CAVANAUGH: Really? Wow.
LEE: Yeah. And the last type of training is actually done by our Explosive Ordinance Disposal teams. And essentially that’s learning to locate and identify and dismantle any mines that might appear in the water or now, because of the war overseas, they’re training more on land as well. And so you’ll have a simulated mine that might be in the water and personnel will dive into the water and learn to identify it and, if necessary, neutralize it.
CAVANAUGH: So there are no really new construction going in at this proposed expansion. But since there’s going to be more training going on, what kind of impact is that going to have on these locations?
LEE: Sure. And, I mean, one thing I didn’t mention is, in addition to the increased frequency of training, we are going to have – introduce a number of pieces of equipment, new aircraft in a new tracked vehicle. And so this is actually being introduced throughout the fleet and so that’s an additional part of the proposed action. And then in addition to that, we’ll be increasing our accessibility to existing beach and inland training areas. So it’d be hard to explain, I guess, in a short period of time, you know, the overall impacts but what we’re finding is that we have very similar impacts to what we’re currently doing. And we’ve been training at the Silver Strand Training Complex for over 60 years so kind of more of the same really.
CAVANAUGH: Is there – Okay, so more of the same. Explain to me the kind of precautions that the Navy is taking to preserve the environment because I know that there are tidelands involved in the Silver Strand and are there endangered species.
LEE: Yes, so actually we have a number of endanger – or, species listed under the Endangered Species Act. We have two bird species, one is threatened and one’s endangered. It’s the California Least Tern and the Western Snowy Plover. And they nest on the beaches and we – they started nesting around the 1980s and that was actually encouraged by us. We set aside a preserve on the bay side. And then they started expanding, because of our program they started expanding and they actually expanded into the training beaches and so we have birds that are nesting on our training beaches. So to minimize the impacts on these birds, we’ve established a Natural Resources Conservation program. It’s staffed by a number of biologists and we spend about a half a million dollars every year on various measures, for instance like predator control and, you know, rearing if we find an egg that’s abandoned, you know, working with other organizations to try to rear it and then release it at a later time. So we have a number of programs that have been set aside to – or have been developed by the Navy to ensure that – the continued existence of the species. And it’s actually been quite successful. We started out with about 200 California Least Terns in the mid-1980s and we have about – excuse me, I’m sorry, 200 nests on the beach. You can only count nests, it’s very difficult to…
LEE: …to count birds…
CAVANAUGH: Birds, right.
LEE: Yeah, so and then now we have about 1700 nests on the beach. So it’s been a very successful program, and the same thing for the Western Snowy Plover. We have – we didn’t have – we didn’t start with that many. We had about 17 nests and now we’re about up to 82. So we’ve, you know, we’ve been training on the same beaches and yet at the same time we see a continued increase in the nesting activities on the beaches.
CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Delfin Lee. She is the Navy Pacific Fleet project manager for the Silver Strand Training Complex Draft Environmental Impact Study. We’re talking about a little beef-up of activities at the Silver Strand Training Complex and what that impact might be on the environment. I’m wondering, what did your study – what were the findings of your environmental impact study?
LEE: Sure. And, again, I think most of the findings were about more of the same. You know, we have an existing Hazardous Waste Management program so basically, you know, increased training. It’s not a substantial increase. We’re talking about currently about 4000 activities moving up to about 5300 activities. So our management systems would just continue as they are and we would still have the capacity to handle what’s needed. And then we have a number of mitigation measures or what we call, you know, measures to help minimize any sort of impacts on the public or on natural resources or just general environmental resources to minimize those impacts.
CAVANAUGH: Now, as I said, you are going to be basically displaying this project to the public this week but you’ve also – the 45 day public review period began last month. And I’m wondering what the community response has been so far?
LEE: We’ve actually been doing quite a bit to outreach to the community. We haven’t heard a whole lot of comments yet. We’re basically waiting for the public hearings and hoping that people will give comments at that time. And those are going to be tomorrow and Wednesday. We’re going to have one in Imperial Beach tomorrow and then one on Wednesday in Coronado. Those will be in the evenings from four to six. And we’re hoping that the public – we really – we want to hear what the public has to say about our proposal and also learn more about, you know, what we’re proposing, ask any questions that they might have so that they can provide educated comments.
CAVANAUGH: I know that in Coronado, people are very concerned about traffic and if you increase the number of training operations at these facilities, will that also increase the number of people there? That have to get there?
LEE: It’s a great question. The one great thing about the Silver Strand Training Complex is that most of the training or pretty much all of the training is going to be conducted by personnel that are stationed and working on Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. So what you have is people exiting maybe about 1000 yards north of the training beaches, and so they’d be driving, you know, just across the street to enter the beaches or just down the Silver Strand Highway to get to the training complex. And what we’re finding is that the current traffic that we have is, you know, about 1% of the through-put on Silver Strand Highway.
CAVANAUGH: Now as the public comes to comment on the idea of expanding the number of training operations going on at the Silver Strand Complex, what kind of choice do they have? In other words, can they impact your plans at all? I mean, if they come and they say, you know, we don’t like this, this and this, what kind of option do they have to complain?
LEE: Absolutely, and this is something we really want to hear. I mean, basically the comments will be used by the decision maker so the decision maker is the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Installations and Environment, and we’re going to be taking every single comment that we receive, you know, an official comment either written or verbally, we’re going to be putting it in the EIS, making sure that we address it so if we did something incorrectly or if we, you know, if we didn’t say things in a, you know, in the best way, then we certainly want to address that in the final Environmental Impact Statement. And the Assistant Secretary of the Navy will review all of the comments and any revisions that we make to the Draft Environment Impact Statement as it goes final and use that as – to make a decision. So it’s very important that we get the public’s input.
CAVANAUGH: That’s what I was about to say. So these public hearings are really a very important piece in the whole process.
LEE: Yes, it’s our way of getting the public input and understanding what the public’s concerns are.
CAVANAUGH: I’m wondering, Delfin, why does the Navy feel it’s important to have this training complex at the Silver Strand?
LEE: Yeah, the Silver Strand is a very unique location. It’s got access to the bay side and the ocean side, so it’s like a long strip of land and so it allows personnel to train in calmer waters on the bay side and, you know, kind of get used to whatever the basic skills they’re trying to learn, and then move over quickly to the ocean side, almost even – you can even do it in the same day and get used to rougher, you know, surf conditions. And so it’s very important for a number of commands that we have on Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, which I mentioned was, you know, only about 1000 feet to the north of Silver Strand, so these guys use it for day-to-day training, and it’s very important for us to be able to keep our Navy sailors at home. You know, when they’re – ‘cause they’re deployed so often away from their families, we want them to be able to stay – stay as close to possible (sic) when they’re training so, you know, if instead of, you know, shipping off – excuse me, shipping them off, you know, like, you know, 30 minutes, 40 minutes away, you know, they can do a lot of training exercises very close to home.
CAVANAUGH: And once again, if you could tell us what are the three options of the proposal?
LEE: Okay, so we have three alternatives. The first is the no-action alternative and that’s what – basically, we’re just continuing current training. We wouldn’t be making any changes to what we’re doing at the range. The second is alternative one and this is the Navy’s preferred alternative. We believe that it provides a balance between training and also conserving the environment. And there’s three components of that alternative, that is to increase the frequency and types of training, it’s to introduce one new helicopter, tracked vehicle, actually replace existing tracked vehicle with an improved version, and then also replacing a fluid transfer system with a new version. And then the third part of the proposal is to increase access to beach and inland training areas. And so we have a number of areas that are currently encumbered at various points in the year and so we’re looking to increase access to those three areas. And then the third alternative is very similar to the second – or, excuse me, I guess alternative two is very similar to alternative one. It is not the Navy’s preferred alternative. And the only differ – I mean, we’d still be increasing the tempo and the types of training. We would still be introducing the various – the helicopter, the tracked vehicle and the fluid transfer system, so really the only difference is instead of conditionally increasing access to inland and training area – or, excuse me, beach and inland areas, we would be – we would have unrestricted use to those training areas.
CAVANAUGH: I see. And I read in the proposal or at least the press release that you put out about the proposal that the Navy feels that it needs to upgrade in this way to conform with Homeland Security requirements.
CAVANAUGH: And training requirements.
LEE: I think there’s actually a lot of different reasons for increasing the tempo. A large portion of it is just because of a overall restructuring of the force that we have. So we have a lot of different commands that use the Silver Strand Training Complex and they’re really shifting towards the southwest region and they’re using the southwest training ranges a lot more frequently and a lot more intensively. And so that’s probably the biggest reason for it.
CAVANAUGH: Well, you’ve explained this very complicated issue to us very well, Delfin. Thank you so much.
LEE: Thank you so much for having me.
CAVANAUGH: I want to let everyone know the Navy is holding an open house to present the Environmental Impact Report about the Silver Strand and get public comment. That’s tomorrow at the Imperial Beach City Hall from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. and Wednesday at the Coronado Community Center also from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. If you’d like to comment about anything you hear on These Days, you can go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. Stay with us for hour two coming up in just a few minutes right here on KPBS.