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Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Saturday, August 31, 2013
Navy report: More missiles, bombs could be on the way

The Navy released a report Friday that indicates future military training in the Florida Keys could include underwater explosives and other operations that result in sea debris.

The 2,000-page draft of the Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) involves all Navy operations on the Atlantic Seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico, from Maine to Texas.

Any uptick in naval operations will probably go unnoticed by Florida Keys residents, said U.S. Fleet Forces EIS project manager Jene Nissen.

"The level of activity that occurs down there will be about the same," Nissen said. "There could be additional testing, but much of it will be far off at sea."

Some of those additional operations and testing may include:

• An increase in "chaff countermeasure" exercises. Chaff canisters contain a "couple million" glass fibers -- about the same thickness of human hair -- covered in aluminum, designed to confuse enemy radars. About 30,000 such canisters may be released near the Keys each year. According to the EIS summary: "Chaff is a very light material that can remain suspended in air anywhere between 10 minutes to 10 hours" and can travel up to 200 miles from the point of release. After falling from the air, the fibers float on the sea surface and eventually sink.

• The beginning of "sonobouy" tests, in which 1,512 of the canisters would be dropped from the air. Sonobouy canisters explode in the water, creating a loud acoustic signal used to determine the position of a target. They are used in anti-submarine warfare. Sonobouys leave parachutes, canister fragments and other debris in the water.

• The beginning of "mine neutralization" exercises north of Fleming Key, in which C-4 explosives with the equivalent of up to 60 pounds of TNT are detonated underwater.

"The Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing EIS examines Navy training out at sea from Maine to Texas," said Naval Air Station Key West spokeswoman Trice Denny, adding that another, smaller 800-page environmental report recently released deals "exclusively with air operations at Boca Chica Field."

Monroe County hired Fort Lauderdale-based consulting firm Keith and Schnars to analyze both Navy reports.

The smaller, 800-page Naval Air Station Key West EIS covers Boca Chica Field to about 10 miles around the air base, said U.S. Fleet Forces spokesman Ted Brown.

"We haven't really had a chance to review it (the larger Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing EIS) fully as we've been focusing on the local (Naval Air Station Key West EIS) more," said Keith and Schnars Vice President Michael Davis.

Davis declined to comment further until he could review the full report.

Keith and Schnars engineers noted in their executive summary to county leaders last summer that the Navy may conduct some of these additional operations within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The Navy claims precedence, as the military was here before the sanctuary was created.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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