The U.S Coast Guard has designated two locations as permanent sites for the Navy’s underwater detonation exercises, which will be conducted at least 10 times a year.
The designated areas will cover all navigable waters within a 700-yard radius above and below the surface for the Apra Outer Harbor and a 700-yard radius above and below the surface for the Piti site, the USCG states in the final rule posted May 19 on the Federal Register.
The USCG said the safety zones will impact a small designated area of navigable waters during the exercises.
The underwater detonation exercises will be conducted approximately 10 times a year “although additional exercises may be required based on Navy training needs,” states the USCG’s rule, which takes effect on June 20.
“We have established safety zones for these Navy (underwater detonation) in past years through a temporary final rulemaking for each exercise,” the USCG said.
“For all subsequent exercises, we propose to establish recurring safety zones through this regulation to safeguard the public and exercise participants within the affected area from possible safety hazards associated with the exercises.”
During the period of exercise, the safety zone will be off-limits to commercial vessel traffic.
While the rule will affect small businesses, not-for-profit organizations that are independently owned and operated, the USGC said it “will not have a significant economic impact on any vessel owner or operator.”
USCG said assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 determined that the rule will not have a significant effect on the human environment.
The USCG vows to take no “retaliatory actions” against any entities that will protest the rule.USCG said the underwater detonation exercises, “many of which are of short duration, on days requested by the Navy,” are conducted to train and prepare personnel for operational missions.
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The USCG said it “believes this safety zone regulation is necessary to protect the public and exercise participants within the affected area from possible safety hazards associated with these exercises.”
The USCG said the notice for the rule published on Feb. 9 received two comments in support of the proposed rule.
“This regulatory action determination is based on the size, location, and duration of the safety zones. Vessel traffic will be able to safely transit around these safety zones, which will impact a small designated area of waters off of Piti, Guam, and in Apra Outer Harbor for certain periods of time.”
“Moreover, the Coast Guard will issue a Broadcast Notice to Mariners via VHF-FM marine channel 16 about the safety zones and the rule allows vessels to seek permission to enter the zone.”
A previous announcement about an exercise in Apra Harbor in April last year received an overwhelming public criticism when the USCG acknowledged the “inherent danger” and “potential hazards” associated with underwater detonation, but invoked its authority to issue a rule “without prior notice and opportunity to comment when the agency for good cause finds that those procedures are impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest.”