Tuesday, April 28, 2009

San Juan County Transfer Station Decision- Hot off the Presses

County council votes 4 to 1 for Sutton Road site for SJI transfer station

posted 04/29/2009
San Juan County Council voted 4 to 1 with Bob Myhr absent and chose the current Sutton Road property as the site for the the new San Juan Island Transfer station. Councilmember Richard Fralick favored the Beaverton Valley site because of co-location and elimination of uncertainties. He said he couldn't tell his constituents I looked "at other alternatives I chose a site more expensive that doesn't allow co-location, will cost more for building and in tipping fees."

Councilmember Gene Knapp wanted an independent cost analysis done before anything else was done bur ended up being the deciding fourth vote.

Councilmember Rich Peterson said a powerful arguement was the fact neighbors of the Sutton Road property moved in knowing the landfill was there.

Councilmember Lovel Pratt made the motion which ranked the sites as Sutton Road first, Beaverton Valley second and Daniel Lane third. She cited traffic concerns, neighbors' expectations, recouping the expenses of temporarily fixing the current site.

Councilmember Howie Rosenfeld said, "We can make Sutton Road work." The description of the town-owned contaminated property as a "time bomb" by citizens during the public hearing made him more convinced of his decision to chose Sutton Road, the former town councilmember said.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Update on the Navy Sonar In The San Juan Islands


Throughout the night of April 7th, anyone listening to the hydrophones at Lime Kiln State Park heard 8 uninterrupted hours of underwater voices followed by echoing pings of military sonar every ten minutes.  You can listen to a clip of the recorded exercises by clicking this link, but be sure to TURN DOWN YOUR VOLUME.

According to Dr. Val Veirs, president of The Whale Museum board and professor emeritus of physics at Colorado College, decibel levels of sonar pings recorded off the west side of San Juan Island April 7-8 may have been the same level as sonar pings implicated in the deaths of several beaked whales in the Bahamas in October 2003. “The received levels of the signals at Lime Kiln Lighthouse were about the most intense sounds that the hydrophones there have recorded in the past several years of continuous operation,” he said. "The highest received levels came from sonar pings and were approximately 140 dB re 1 microPascal." This is approximately the same as the most intense sonar signals recorded in May 2003 when the (USS) Shoup transited the waters of Haro Strait. Biologists on the water at the time reported that killer whales seemed to be fleeing from the sound. Since then, Navy ships are required to receive permission from fleet commanders before operating sonar in Puget Sound. That was in 2003.

"The garbled voices we heard today were communications between the submarine and a surface tender," Veirs said. "We estimate that the distance between our hydrophone at Lime Kiln Lighthouse and the submarine was in the neighborhood of 10 nautical miles and for our hydrophones to pick up the strong signals that they did, the submarine was emitting sound with source level in the range 175 dB to 225 dB re 1 microPasca1.”

Veirs said the sounds were heard for many miles in a variety of underwater locations — from the east at Whidbey Island to the north of San Juan Island and out toward the ocean in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. And of significant concern was the fact the sonar was taking place where there were reports of Transients, a minke, & 2 gray whales only hours before the episode began.

By 8:00pm on the 8th, Navy spokeswoman Sheila Murray confirmed that the fast-attack submarine USS San Francisco, accompanied by a surface ship, was operating its sonar last night as it passed through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The sub was conducting “required training dives” and did not enter Haro Strait, she said. The Navy undertakes precautions to protect marine mammals, she noted.  The full story has been covered locally and throughout the Pacific Northwest- you can click HERE for more details.

This past December, The Navy and several plaintiffs, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Cetacean Society International, the League for Coastal Protection, the Ocean Futures Society, and Jean-Michel Cousteau, entered into a settlement agreement to resolve a worldwide challenge to the Navy's testing and training with mid-frequency active sonar. The settlement essentially adopts the long range program for environmental analysis and research , forcing the Navy to continue to implement a variety of protective measures in cooperation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That agreement does not require any additional mitigation measures. General Counsel for the Navy, Frank Jiminez commented after the settlement, "The Navy welcomes an approach that relies more upon scientific research than litigation."

Just this week, researchers issued a study indicating sonar causes temporary hearing loss in dolphins. Findings show that when the dolphins were exposed to progressively louder pings of mid-frequency sonar up to 203 dBs, neurological data showed the mammal had become deaf, for its brain no longer responded to sound.

While concerns are heightened right now, it is important to stress that the Navy has been proposing a substantial increase in these types of exercises throughout the Pacific Northwest. Plans to expand operations such as adding dummy minefields, scheduling hundreds more training flights and warfare simulations over land and sea, and increasing the use of sonar are scheduled, adding potential threats to endangered and threatened whales and other marine mammals throughout the region.

The Navy says that the pending increases in warfare activities are necessary and their draft environmental impact statement, released Dec. 29, concludes (with no surprise) that expanded training won't harm marine life or the public. But environmental groups, fishermen and some politicians are wary, stating that the military sprang the 1,000-page environmental review of its increased training plan with little notice and has provided only minimal assessment periods or input from residents.

At risk are the southern resident orcas and nine marine mammal species listed as threatened or endangered, including seven whales. And thanks to George Bush and more recently, The Supreme Court, it certainly appears as though the Navy's plans may go completely unchallenged despite the incongruity of the situation at hand. There is hope, however. The comment period, once limited to a couple of weeks between January 27 and mid-February, has now been extended to April 13, 2009, to allow for additional public input. Should you be so inclined, please take a look at the Draft Impact Statement (as ugly as it is) and send your comments to the Government. You can also send an email or fill out a comment form online. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Sonar Heard For Six Hours in The Salish Seas

Following a magnificent day in the Pacific Northwest- temps in the 70's and hours spent watching a shiny ball of heat in the sky which we rarely see but is apparently known to others as "the sun," (smiles) I snapped this photo just as the sun fell fell behind the profile of Vancouver Island at 7:02pm. All was right with the world- spring temperatures had welcomed back a myriad of frogs and it was to their chorus I that I fell asleep.

This morning, however, I was forced to see the other side of what had been my reality only hours beforehand; underwater, the night had not been so peaceful. Logging on to Facebook (feel free to add me as a friend if you'd like!) I was astounded by what I was seeing and hearing. As you already know, if you have read this blog before, we have been actively advocating public response to proposed increases in military training exercises planned in and around the area as well as trying to focus efforts on public awareness- explaining impacts on this tenuous marine environment called the Salish Sea.

Last night proved the efforts must continue. Listeners tuning in to the Lime Kiln Hydrophones  anytime after 6:55 pm were afforded the chance to acoustically engage in active military training for six +hours. While listening, one could have enjoyed listening to repeated sonar pings and underwater voices emanating from Navy vessels training exercises in the area, exercises which later confirmed by the military as having taken place in these waters. Jeanne Hyde provided an overview of the events as they occurred on her blog, staying up through the morning hours to follow it. Scott Viers, lead instructor and acoustics expert at Beam Reach, a Marine Science and Sustainability School, also tracked this event and provides a significant story HERE. So, if you're curious about what it sounds like, LISTEN HERE but beware, there are loud pings of sonar on the soundclip- TURN DOWN YOUR VOLUME.

Which brings up back to the ocean inhabitants that are being further stressed in their already deteriorating environment. Just yesterday, transient killer whales were seen throughout the afternoon right in the same area where the exercises were being conducted- within hours of one another.  

Some excellent further reading on the issue if you are still on the fence about sending your thoughts to the Navy:


Bottom line: Navy: Clinging to exceedingly hard line as it embraces stewardship

The Navy seems truly mystified at the uproar being made over sonar training, given the very few incidents over the past decades of mid-frequency active sonar deployment. Many seem to feel that judges who imposed additional safety measures did not really understand the modeling of impacts and scientific minutia used by the Navy and NMFS in designing current safetey measures. There really is a sense within the Navy that this is not a huge problem, thought it clearly deserves attention, and that their famous "29 Measures" are sufficient to minimize future risk. Whether the adoption of these formal standards emerged from within after the Bahamas and later incidents, or was triggered by the outside scrutiny spurred by NRDC and others, there appears to be an authentic desire to do what needs to be done to protect whales. We can assume additional mitigation measures suggested by others, and even those adopted by allies, are truly considered to be excessive and of little practical value in protecting whales from harm.

Even if all this is true, there remain a few areas in which the Navy's approach to the issue leaves much to be desired.

First is the focus on being satisfied with avoiding physical injury, which leads inevitably to discounting behavioral disruption as a cause for concern.

Second is the seeming deaf ear the Navy turns to any suggestion that it put some areas off-limits to sonar training. Look again at the map near the beginning of this report; can it really be true that every square mile of all those ranges off the US east coast contains crucially unique training opportunities, and that putting biologically rich or seasonally important areas off-limits would cripple our training abilities? This attitude cannot help but undermine the public's faith in the Navy to make balanced, prudent decisions on its own.

Third is the vagueness contained in the 29 Protective Measures concerning changes in procedure when the Bahamas-like "contributing factors" are encountered. As noted above, the language here does not inspire confidence that the Navy is taking the threat of injury seriously even in the one very specific set of circumstances that it is convinced is the only situation in which sonar can kill whales. The lack of extended aerial surveys prior to powering up sonar is especially troubling, since beaked whales are so difficult to spot at the surface. Most likely, the Navy simply feels that the likelihood that whales will be present is so low that it does not justify exerting the effort to look for them, or it trusts that in nearly all cases, the whales will hear and avoid the sonar without injury. Even if they are correct in these assumptions, this is a key place where going the extra mile would indicate a level of good faith that is sorely needed to build confidence in their commitment to safe practices.

Related to this is the small size of the US Navy's safety zones, compared to those used by other Navies. As noted above, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in deferring to the lower court's increase of the shut-down zone from 500 yards to 2000 meters, noted that "NATO imposes a 2,000 meter shutdown zone when a marine mammal is detected–the same zone that the district court’s preliminary injunction requires. The Australian Navy goes farther, mandating a shutdown of activities if a marine mammal is detected within 4,000 yards of a sonar-emitting vessel," and further calculated that the 2000 meter zone would only lead to one or two shut-downs per week of training, hardly crippling training preparedness.

Finally, the Navy's reluctance to encourage more investigation—or even acknowledge enduring ambiguity—of stranding events that do not fit the current clear-cut model of sonar-induced stranding is short-sighted, also undermining pubic confidence in its commitment to do its best. While it is difficult to ever really know what caused many—perhaps most—strandings, the Navy seems too eager to brush aside questions about events that don't fit its simple, specific picture. Acknowledging our uncertainty about the ways that animals may react to sonar, and so treating some of the ambiguous events as possibly sonar-induced, would certainly complicate things for the Navy, but it would not tie them to making operational changes based on these uncertain events. It would, however, show that the Navy is authentically considering the full spectrum of possible impacts that its activities may be having, and would allow the Navy to engage more honestly with scientists and environmental advocates as we slowly unravel some of the mysteries and uncertainties that currently limit our understanding.

This last point was starkly highlighted during a June 2008 press event in which the Navy took reporters and several scientists on a sonar training exercise off Virginia. In its briefings, the Navy repeated its well-known mantra: Only five stranding events have been "linked scientifically" with sonar since its inception in 1939....No strandings have been "linked scientifically" to the U.S. Navy since 2000....And, finally, "No scientific evidence exists proving mid-frequency active sonar has ever killed any marine mammals as a direct and sole cause of death." (i.e., they are injured by the changes in their dive patterns, and/or by being tossed about on the beach after stranding, rather than by direct acoustic impact/trauma). Even the scientists that were hand-picked by the Navy to participate in this PR exercise could not abide the stridency of the Navy's message: Nina Young, of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership (a multi-agency coordinating group) said the Navy uses uncertain cause of death rulings to downplay possible links between sonar and mammals. "It's unfortunate that the threshold for the Navy seems so absolute, and the burden of proof so high, that it undermines efforts to engage in a productive discussion," she said, while Andrew Wright, a marine mammal scientist who has worked for the Marine Mammal Commission and NOAA, said definitive proof of sonar's effect on whales didn't exist until recently. "We've only really known about the problem since 2000, 2002. We don't have long-term information, even on humans. There's so much uncertainty around this, and it all depends on where you place the burden of proof."

Remembering the crucial point that routine use of active sonar far exceeds the use of sonar in training situations, the Navy could dramatically advance its own cause by being less adament in all these ways as it conducts its training missions. Of course, that would require a long-term institutional commitment to minimize potential harm; and indeed, there are many within the military with authentic desires to work constructively with scientists, regulators, and other civilians, as well as in balance with Congressional and judicial oversight. So far, however, the decision-making apparatus, appears to remain in the hands of those more commited to maintaining the Pentagon's autonomy in the face of public or judicial opinion.

For more information, see AEI Special Report: Active Sonars - Includes continually updated news items, tracking of range-specific EIS releases, technology descriptions, current deployment, and links to military, agency, and NGO websites. [GO THERE]

You can read the Proposed EIS Plan or go directly to the comment page here.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

An Interview With A Whale Named Mike

Courtesy of The San Juan Journal

 J-26 tells all in interview; voice-recognition software enables orca to share views with humans

Journal of the San Juans Reporter
Today, 9:41 AM · UPDATED

Voice-recognition software has been developed that enables researchers at The Whale Museum to translate Southern resident orca dialect into English.  For the first time, researchers employed the technology to conduct an interview with a killer whale — and get answers to age-old questions.

J-26 will now take your questions.

?“What time do the whales go by?” — Barry Thick, 55, Bellevue.

J-26: Thursdays at 2:45 p.m. Just kidding, Barry. The answer is whatever time we damn well please.

Do orcas eat only chinook salmon? — Natasha Pollock, 30-something, Everett.

J-26: It’s like choosing between filet mignon and top sirloin. They’re meatier and juicier and really yummy. So kings are generally our first choice. But we’re at the top of the food chain so, well, you get the picture. Personally, at my age, I snack a lot on rockfish because of the fiber.

Do you feel harassed by all those boats?” — Megan Propwash, 12, Orcas Island.

J-26: It’s no picnic. Imagine a bee or a mosquito constantly buzzing in your ears while your pushing a shopping cart down the aisle at the grocery store. But we’re highly-evolved marine mammals, so we adapt.

Frankly, I don’t get it. It’s not like we’ve got Brad Pitt or Britney Spears in our pods. And don’t get me started on that Navy sonar.

Does sonar hurt?” — Lt. Monica Ping, 33, Oak Harbor.

J-26: Are you kidding? Think fingernails on a chalkboard, times 100. The real irony is that even with sonar, helicopters and night-vision goggles, the U.S. and Canada are completely unaware of all those Iranian nuclear-powered submarines going in and out of Puget Sound almost every month.

What’s it like being so full of toxic chemicals?” — Melvin Isotope, 28, Friday Harbor.

J-26: It’s like drinking way too much coffee on an empty stomach. Try it sometime.

Where do you guys go for the winter?” — Jack Frost, 87, Shaw Island.

J-26: We’ve gone to a lot of different places over the years. The youngsters like Disneyland but personally, I’m fond of the Bay Area. Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf is my favorite. We hung out around Astoria this past winter but a bunch of snarky sea lions were there pestering us. They can be a real pain in the dorsal.

What do you think about those AIG bonuses?” — Alan Blackeyespan, 89, St. Croix.

J-26: Humans ... give ’em an inch and they’ll take your portfolio. In our world, we’ve got a way of dealing with sharks. I’m happy to hear some have given back their bonuses. Honestly though, there are bigger fish to fry.

Did you know that you’re in danger of extinction?” — Jessie Endoveittall, 10, Lopez Island.

J-26: Come again? Do you mean extinction, as in forever? We’ve had our ups and downs but that’s the first I’ve heard about that. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

Ginger or Mary Ann?” — Bob Brawny, 42, Concrete.

J-26: “Mary Ann. She’s cute, sincere, and she adopted an orca.”

Reporter Scott Rasmussen can be reached at srasmussen@sanjuanjournal.com or 360-378-5696.