Murkowski says Navy has explaining to do

Northern Edge military exercise in the Gulf of Alaska. (File photo: U.S. Navy)
Northern Edge military exercise in the Gulf of Alaska. (File photo: U.S. Navy)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski says the Navy is again snubbing the concerns of Alaskans as it prepares for the next Northern Edge. That’s a military exercise, held every two years, that stretches from the Gulf of Alaska into the Interior. The next Northern Edge is scheduled for May. Murkowski says more than 100 Alaskans sent her letters this summer with concerns about the potential impact of the exercise, particularly on fish and marine mammals.

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“When the exercise moved forward in 2015, after a great deal of concern being expressed by the coastal communities, there was assurance by Navy (that) ‘well, after the exercise, we’ll basically provide answers to the questions people have,'” Murkowski said. “And they haven’t done it.”

Murkowski sent a sternly worded letter to the secretary of the Navy last week, calling for more transparency. She also chided the Navy for denying Alaska biologist Rick Steiner’s request, under the Freedom of Information Act, for reports on the impact of Northern Edge 2015.

Two years ago, military representatives said people were misinformed about the scope of the exercise. They said environmental impact documents described dropping far more ordinance into the Gulf than the Navy actually intended to use.

Today, Air Force Capt. Anastasia Wasem, a spokeswoman for Alaskan Command, said the military is finalizing its public outreach plans.

“So far they include having representation at events such as the Alaska Federation of Native. Also the Alaska Forum on the Environment and CommFish,” she said. “And in addition to that, we’re going to be trying to work with the cities of Kodiak, Cordova, Homer and Seward to go to meetings for their Chamber of Commerce and city council, and also perhaps Rotary Clubs.”

Wasem says the exercise was moved from June to May, in part so the military can save money on airfares and lodging, and also so its aircraft won’t complicate air traffic control during high wildfire season.