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City of Seattle, WA

06/13/2019 | News release | Distributed by Public on 06/12/2019 19:23

During Orca Action Month, Mayor Durkan Files Protest Against Proposed U.S. Navy Air & Water Training Exercises That Could Endanger Southern Resident Orca Whales

Durkan Also Transmits Resolution to City Council Calling on Navy to Reconsider Training Proposal

SEATTLE (June 12, 2019) - Mayor Durkan filed a letter of protest today on behalf of the City of Seattle in response to the United States Navy's Draft Northwest Training and Testing Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). In addition, the letter highlights the City's opposition to the proposed testing and training that could endanger Southern resident orca whales and other marine mammals in the Puget Sound through the Navy's use of sonar. The full letter submitted as a public comment on the Navy's EIS can be found here and below. The City of Seattle is the largest city in the critical habitat of Southern resident orcas. The City of Seattle has named June Orca Awareness Month in partnership with Governor Jay Inslee who has declared June Orca Action Month.

'Last summer, the collective heart of Seattle broke as we watched the mother of a dead orca calf mourn her offspring for 17 days. Orcas have lived in this region for at least 5,000 years and are part of our Coast Salish people, cultural identity, fishing economy, and tourism industry,' wrote Mayor Durkan. 'But Washington's Southern resident orcas are facing a dismal fate due to diminished salmon, toxic contaminants, and disturbance from noise and vessel traffic. Even the loss of one single orca would greatly undermine decades of recovery efforts-and even make it impossible. I call on the U.S. Navy to do their part to keep our waters healthy and safe for all sea life in the Puget Sound.'

In her letter, the Mayor asked the Navy to incorporate greater protections for the endangered Southern resident orca population in Puget Sound, including the use of real-time whale presence alert systems. The Mayor also called on the Navy to adjust the time of year proposed for potential activities to limit impact on Orca habitat.

'With the endangered Southern resident Orca population under multiple threats, everyone in the region must make every effort to reduce the stresses on the Orcas and help them recover,' said Councilmember Mike O'Brien (District 6, Northwest Seattle). 'We urge the Navy to join us in supporting the Orcas by reconsidering their sonar testing plan to meaningfully reduce the noise and disturbance affecting the Southern resident Orcas.'

In addition to the public comment submitted to the U.S. Navy in response to the Draft EIS, Mayor Durkan transmitted a resolution to the Seattle City Council today calling for the Navy to reconsider key aspects of its training proposal. The resolution urges the Navy to expand habitat protections and forgo all training and testing activities where Southern resident orcas and other priority marine animals are present and to use the best and most recent science about Puget Sound marine mammals to prevent further harm Southern resident orcas. You can view the full text of the resolution here.

Research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) indicates that the Navy is already altering the soundscape in areas where orcas are present. Testing and training in the Cape Flattery Offshore should be reexamined and potentially moved to protect Southern resident orcas.

'The Orca is an icon of the Pacific Northwest, and its viability serves as an important indicator of the health of Puget Sound, its watersheds, and of the Salish Sea,' said Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1, West Seattle - South Park).'Given the major threats facing an already-declining population - endangered salmon runs, noise and disturbance from ships, small boats and non-motorized vessels (which affect their ability to echolocate), and toxic pollutants - I'm pleased to join this Mayor and others around the Puget Sound in the effort to do everything in our power to save our fragile community of Southern Resident Orcas.'

The Navy has previously acknowledged the damaging effects of sonar and underwater explosions on whales. Effects include impulse trauma, disorientation that can lead to stranding in shallow waters, and fleeing feeding grounds. The City of Seattle's comments echo many of the concerns already voiced by community stakeholders including the Puget Sound Partnership, Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, Seattle Aquarium, Washington Environmental Council, and Earthjustice.

The City works with numerous partners to take collective action to protect and improve our waterways through programs like Protect our Waters, and regional salmon recovery efforts.

The Mayor's full letter is below:

June 12, 2019

Naval Facilities Engineering Command Northwest

Attention: NWTT Supplemental EIS/OEIS Project Manager

3130 N Charles Porter Ave

Building 385, Admin, Room 216

Oak Harbor, WA 98278-5000

RE: 2019 Draft Navy Northwest Training and Testing Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement

To Whom It May Concern:

The City of Seattle has reviewed the Draft Northwest Training and Testing Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS) and discussed the document with partner agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working to restore and protect Puget Sound and protect the safety and livelihood of the Southern resident orcas. The City of Seattle has significant concerns with the stated impacts to Southern resident orcas and other marine mammals.

Last summer, the collective heart of Seattle broke as we watched the mother of a dead orca calf mourn her offspring for 17 days. Orcas have lived in this region for at least 5,000 years, and are part of our cultural identity, fishing economy, and tourism industry. But Washington's Southern resident orcas are facing a dismal fate due to diminished salmon, toxic contaminants, and disturbance from noise and vessel traffic. Even the loss of one single orca would greatly undermine decades of recovery efforts-and even make recovery impossible.

The City of Seattle offers a unique voice on this issue, as we are the largest United States city within the critical habitat of Southern resident orcas. We are working with our partners to take collective action to protect and improve our creeks, lakes, the Duwamish River, and Puget Sound through Protect our Waters and Salmon Recovery. We know our community members were strongly represented among the more than 18,000 public comments shared with Governor Inslee's Southern Resident Orca Task Force, some of which highlighted concerns with the Navy's sonar and other training and testing activities. These activities will impact our marine mammals, especially orcas, who rely upon echolocation for hunting and navigation and sound to communicate within and between pods. Any loss in the ability to use bio sonar and vocalize will impact critical survival behaviors for the Southern resident orcas, including feeding, resting, and mating.

The City of Seattle supports and amplifies the many comments offered by important stakeholders, including Puget Sound Partnership, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Seattle Aquarium, Washington Environmental Council, and Earthjustice. The City of Seattle recommends that the Navy take these comments seriously and would like to underscore the following concerns, comments, and recommendations:

  • The Draft EIS does not appear to integrate the latest analysis from NOAA's hydrophone network that were provided to the Navy in March. This research indicates that the Navy is already altering the soundscape in areas where orcas are present and to minimize adverse effects on Southern resident orcas, testing and training in the Cape Flattery Offshore should be reexamined and potentially moved.
  • The Draft EIS does not appear to reflect the fact that the Southern resident orca critical habitat is likely to expand later this year. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is committed to proposing a rule to expand the designation of critical habitat off Washington, Oregon, and California by early October 2019. The Navy will need to adjust its plans accordingly.
  • The Draft EIS inaccurately states that Governor Inslee's Orca Task Force did not identify Navy actions as a source for any of the identified threats to Southern resident orca. Recommendation #25 from the Task Force report outlines the need to 'address the acoustic and physical impacts to Southern Resident orcas from Naval exercises in waters and air of Washington state.'
  • The Navy should clarify and potentially adjust the times of year in which proposed activities will occur. This is especially important when assessing impacts to fish and wildlife, which have seasonal movements and behaviors that will greatly determine whether Navy activities significantly affect each species in the proposed areas (e.g. rockfish, Southern resident orca).
  • Whale report alert systems should be used for real-time sightings and advance warnings, complementing the limited visual range of lookouts. There are new real-time whale presence alert systems that the Navy should use to expand and speed up their awareness of likely imminent presence of Southern resident orcas beyond what the lookouts can do visually.
  • The Navy should include rigorous analysis, testing, and monitoring of newer technologies outlined in the Draft EIS-such as high-energy lasers, kinetic energy weapons, and biodegradable polymer-as these are new and their effects are unknown.
  • The Navy should prioritize an increase in protections to reduce noise and disturbance affecting the Southern resident orca immediately. Many other agencies and operators are taking new, meaningful steps to reduce noise and disturbance affecting Southern resident orcas. There are documented cases in this region of United States and Canadian naval activities-including active sonar training and explosive testing-causing direct harm, death, or displacement to the Southern resident orcas. Given the dire situation, it is critical the Navy immediately stop or adjust these activities.

The City of Seattle is bringing forward a resolution (draft attached to this letter) to express its concerns with the Navy's proposed activities and underscore our commitment to working with our partners to ensure protections for Southern resident orcas and the restoration of Puget Sound. Our orcas face incredible environmental pressures, and we must do better protecting these irreplaceable members of our region. I call on the U.S. Navy to do their part to keep our waters healthy and safe for all sea life in the Puget Sound.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Sincerely,

Jenny A. Durkan

Mayor of Seattle

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