Navy bases con­cerned over Mal­lows Bay

Sanc­tu­ary des­ig­na­tion could dis­rupt mis­sion, op­er­a­tions

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­

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.”

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