An advisory committee empanelled by the Monroe County Commission to study the environmental impacts of U.S. Navy operations in the Florida Keys meets next week to discuss the future of explosive, sonar and gunnery exercises in local waters.
Earlier this month the Navy released a final environmental impact statement that guides future operational capabilities in more than 2.6 million square miles of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.
The Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing document was widely vetted by the Monroe County Commission, an advisory panel and hired consultants from the firm Keith and Schnars.
The training increases are broad and include more air combat maneuvers such as dog fights between planes, from 5,700 per year up to 6,840; an increase in air platform testing from 10 to 12 per year; an increase in gunnery exercises from 36 to 70 per year involving 56,000 non-explosive rounds going into the water; flare exercises using more than 4,500 flares; and the annual release of 30,000 canisters of chaff, a radar-fooling countermeasure.
Naval Air Station spokeswoman Trice Denny noted: "Just remember, these are all potential increases that are not necessarily going to happen each year. The EIS would give the Navy the increased capability should it be required."
The county's EIS Oversight Committee is set to meet at 1 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 18, in County Commissioner Danny Kolhage's office, 530 Whitehead St. to consider entering another round of public comment to the Navy and hear a presentation from consultant Keith and Schnars.
Oversight Committee member Don Riggs acknowledged that the public process is nearly over and the Navy's intention is essentially realized, but he said another recommendation may be forthcoming.
"There's some value of going on the records with your concerns even if the concerns aren't going to be addressed," Riggs said, pointing out that chaff, flares and explosives will ultimately wind up in Keys waters.
"This has the potential to impact everybody in the Florida Keys."
The last comparable study was completed in 2009. The full document is available online at www.AFTTEIS.com.
Another Navy study affecting Monroe County residents made official in August lays out an increase in fighter-jet takeoffs and landings at NAS Key West's Boca Chica Field, along with a transition to the newer generation fighter jet, the F-35 Lightning II.
Navy officials are now empowered to increase the number of flight operations out of Boca Chica from 47,500 annually up to 52,000 and gradually replace the F-18 Super Hornet with the Lightning II.