SANTA ANA, Calif. - The Navy has rejected suggestions by the California Coastal Commission to limit sonar training to avoid harming whales and other marine mammals but talks were continuing to resolve the issue.
Navy officials said in a July 31 letter that they would not adopt the commission's March recommendations, the Orange County Register reported ( http://bit.ly/1am8rg3) on Monday.
"We're still working with them," said Mark Delaplaine, a coastal manager with the commission. "At some point, the clock is going to run out and we'll have to have a response if we haven't come to an agreement."
The Navy is expected to ramp up its sonar and underwater explosives training in the waters off Southern California and Hawaii beginning next year as the war in Afghanistan winds down and the military shifts its focus to the Pacific.
The commission, which examined the training plan for the period between 2014 and 2019, wants the Navy to create safety zones that would guarantee no high-intensity sonar activity near marine sanctuaries and protected areas, and in spots that experience a high seasonal concentration of blue, fin and gray whales.
The commission ruled in March that the Navy lacked enough information to back up its argument that the threat to marine mammals would be negligible.
The Navy has estimated 130 marine mammals could die and another 1,600 could suffer hearing loss during the training program, which plans annually for more than 50,000 underwater explosions and more than 10,000 hours of high-intensity sonar use.
"The Navy has been training and testing in that area for decades without major harm to marine life there," a Navy statement said Monday.
If no agreement is reached, the Navy could simply choose to proceed with the training, as it did after the commission requested additional protections in 2007 and 2009.
The commission could sue to try to force the Navy to adopt the measures, as it has done in the past but unsuccessfully.