Alaska military exercise seeks more ocean; public comment ends soon

A map showing the Gulf of Alaska and southwest Alaska
The Western Maneuver Area is the expanded area proposed by the U.S. Navy for 2023. The military says live-fire drills and active sonar would remain limited to the existing “Temporary Maritime Activities Area” that it’s used in the past. (Image courtesy U.S. Navy)

Public comment ends Monday for a U.S. Navy proposal to more than quadruple the area its ships are allowed to maneuver for a war games exercise next summer in the Gulf of Alaska.

Northern Edge is a biennial, large-scale training exercise that involves the Air Force, Army and Marine Corps, as well as the Navy, which says it needs more room.

Related: Navy seeks expanded area for Northern Edge drills in 2023

In the past, the Navy has worked within a 55,000 square mile zone east of Kodiak and south of Prince William Sound. But for 2023, it wants to add 246,000 square miles, stretching west to a point south of Dutch Harbor.

Critics of Northern Edge include coastal Alaska city councils, commercial fishers and environmental and Alaska Native groups. They say such a massive exercise – often conducted in May, with live munitions and active sonar – disrupts fish and marine mammals during a critical time, as they’re migrating and breeding in the Gulf of Alaska.

Related: Environmental worries persist as Northern Edge grows

The Navy disputes its activities harm fish and marine mammals, saying it takes steps to mitigate negative impacts. Unlike its existing zone, the Navy would not conduct live-fire training or use active sonar in the new area.

A supplemental environmental impact statement is available for review and public comment. The comment period is open until 11:59 p.m. Monday, May 2.

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Casey Grove is the host of Alaska News Nightly and a general assignment reporter at Alaska Public Media with an emphasis on crime and courts. Reach him at cgrove@alaskapublic.org.

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