Navy seeks more ocean for Northern Edge exercise; public comment ends soon

Crew members handling fighter jets as they take off and land onboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt during exercises in the Gulf of Alaska during Northern Edge 2019 (Photo by Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)

Public comment ends Monday for a U.S. Navy proposal to greatly expand the area its ships are allowed to use 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.

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.

The Navy disputes that 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.

Alaska Public Media

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