Navy bases concerned over Mallows Bay
Sanctuary designation could disrupt mission, operations
Over the next year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will be sifting through the comments of locals and people from across the country to determine if Mallows Bay will be designated as a National Marine Sanctuar y.
Sammy Orlando, the Chesapeake Bay regional coordinator overseeing the project, said the goal of the designation would be to preserve more than 100 potential shipwrecks in the water from sunken World War I vessels.
But Naval Support Facility Indian Head may suffer if the proposed area is expanded.
The administration is asking the public to choose between four different alternatives they have provided based on public comments. The original preferred alternative of an 18 square mile area is supported by the Navy facility, Jeron Hayes, a public affairs officer for the base, said.
At NOAA’s latest public hearing in early March,
Orlando said the administration’s preferred alternative had been changed to a 52-square-mile area after reading through public comments. The administration also presented an alternative with just over 100 square miles included in the area.
Three military installations could potentially be affected, Hayes said, including Quantico and the Blossom Point research facility. Should the area be increased, the future and present of different missions for all three facilities could be in jeopardy. And that could, in turn, hurt the economy of their surrounding areas, she said.
“We don’t want to make the test range obsolete,” Hayes said. “If the sanctuary limited the ability to do that then that kind of goes against the economic development idea that you can continue to grow the base mission while you have the sanctuary.”
In a letter to NOAA, Capt. Mary Feingberg, a commanding officer for naval support operations in the South Potomac bases, said both the Indian Head and Dahlgren, Va., bases would like to work with the administration to find workable solutions for preserving the history and environment in the area while still being able to maintain operations.
“Environmental stewardship is a core value of the Department of Navy and managing the nation’s cultural and natural resources is a responsibility that NSA South Potomac takes seriously,” Feinberg said. “As good stewards, we work diligently to balance and strengthen the vital link between our warfighting mission and our responsibility to safeguard the environment.”
Feinberg said alternative B, which presents an 18-square-mile area for the sanctuary, would work for the base. But the other two alternatives are too expansive and would present some difficulty for the base’s operations.
Hayes said the base is in the process of inquiring about a waiver from the department of defense that would enable them to continue their testing operations in the area.
The 52-square-mile area would be just 1 mile outside of the base’s testing area, she said, and the larger area covering more than 100 square miles would run completely over it.
The Charles County Delegation was originally in support of Alternative C and having a 52-squaremile coverage area, but Delegation Chairwoman Edith Patterson (D-Charles) said that has since changed.
On Jan. 27, the delegation sent a letter to NOAA stating its support of alternative C. But as the state legislators continued to do more research, she said, things changed.
Based on growing concerns and comments from the community, Patterson said, the delegation is asking NOAA to “reconsider” its support for alternative C and is now asking for alternative B.
“We believe that alternative B, with language guaranteeing these boundaries can never be expanded, should provide the needed protections for our installations while allowing for the wrecks at Mallows Bay to be designated a National Marine Sanctuary,” Patterson said.
At this point, Hayes said, the base has not heard back from NOAA or the Department of Defense on the waiver request. But that is not uncommon at this point in the process, she said.
NOAA just closed its open comment period on the bay on March 31. There will likely be no determinations made in the near future and Orlando previously said a decision on the bay could be made as late as 2018.
Hayes said the base will likely get a chance to discuss things with NOAA after it has a chance to go through public comments a bit more.
“I do believe we will have the chance to sit down with them at some point,” Hayes said. “They’re probably reviewing a lot of data and that kind of thing.”