By Chris Hamilton
KAHULUI - U.S. Navy training exercises in waters around Hawaii and across the Pacific would be the same kinds of activities that have been under way for decades, including sonar training and the use of explosives under water, Navy officials said last week.
The U.S. Navy brought its application to renew an environmental impact statement allowing its ships, submarines and planes to continue training in waters around Hawaii and Southern California to a lightly attended open house in Kahului on Friday.
Opponents have objected to the Navy's use of sonar in its exercises within the 1.2 million-square-mile Hawaii testing range, saying the powerful sounds cause injuries to marine mammals including humpback whales.
"We believe our effects (with sonar) are temporary," said Fleet Environmental Counsel Johnny Nilsen. "We do not believe that the sonar is going to kill any mammals."
The Navy must, by law, conduct training exercises to be prepared for the event of attack or war, and that involves using explosive devices in the water as well, Nilsen added. However, their main concern is trying to detect diesel-powered submarines, which are becoming increasingly popular among some Asian countries, such as North Korea, he said.
None of the training and tests under consideration is for land targets, Navy officials said.
"This is more of the same," said Mark Matsunaga, environmental public affairs officer for the U.S. Pacific Fleet command of the EIS process. "We have been doing these activities for decades."
At least a dozen residents stopped by for the four-hour-long open house at Maui Waena Intermediate School. Another dozen Navy officers, spokespeople, private consultants and scientists were on hand to answer the public's questions.
A number of those who visited the event were skeptical of the Navy's claims.
"Of course, you darn well know they are just telling you what you want to hear," said Mele Stokesberry of Maui Peace Action. "They've got to defend their positions."
Stokesberry said she was concerned that the Navy is using depleted uranium in its weapons training but was told that only the Army uses the controversial metal for its projectiles.
Mahealani Oliver said she came to find out firsthand where the Navy got the authority to conduct its operations in both the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. She also said she was concerned about its impact on the environment and aquatic life.
"I just don't think it's a good place for training, you know?" Oliver said.