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28 July 2008


[Federal Register: July 28, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 145)]
[Notices]               
[Page 43727-43730]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
[DOCID:fr28jy08-34]                         

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DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

Department of the Navy

 
Record of Decision for the Final Environmental Impact Statement 
for the Shock Trial of USS MESA VERDE (LPD 19)

AGENCY: Department of the Navy, DoD.

ACTION: Notice of Record of Decision.

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SUMMARY: The Department of Navy (Navy), pursuant to Section 102(2)(C) 
of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, 42 United 
States Code (U.S.C.) 4321 et seq.; the regulations implementing NEPA 
issued by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), 40 Code of 
Federal Regulations (CFR) Parts 1500-1508; Navy regulations 
implementing NEPA procedures (31 CFR 775); and Presidential Executive 
Order 12114, hereby announces its decision to conduct a shock trial for 
USS MESA VERDE in the area of the Atlantic Ocean offshore of Naval 
Station Mayport, Jacksonville, Florida during the summer 2008 (June 21-
September 20).
    NEPA establishes the procedures Federal agencies must follow in 
analyzing environmental impacts of major Federal actions within the 
United States (U.S.) and its territories. Presidential Executive Order 
12114 establishes the procedures Federal agencies must follow when 
environmental impacts of major Federal actions occur outside the U.S. 
or its territories including the global commons. The Navy is the lead 
agency for the proposed action with cooperation from the National 
Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), who agreed to be a cooperating agency 
for the Environmental Impact Statement.
    USS MESA VERDE will undergo a shock trial in a manner consistent 
with the proposed action ``Alternative Offshore Shock Trial Locations'' 
as described in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The 
Final EIS analyzed in detail three alternative offshore areas (Norfolk, 
Virginia; Mayport, Florida; and Pensacola, Florida) during all four 
seasons. The No-action alternative was also analyzed in the Final EIS.
    The preferred alternative is to conduct a shock trial offshore of 
Mayport implementing protective measures (also referred to as 
mitigation measures) to

[[Page 43728]]

minimize risk to marine mammals and sea turtles. Although all three 
test areas meet minimal operational requirements, there is considerable 
variability between the locations in terms of marine species presence 
and status (e.g., threatened or endangered), as well as differences 
with respect to potential impacts to species (i.e., mortality, injury, 
and acoustic harassment). USS MESA VERDE will be subjected to a series 
of up to four 10,000-pound explosive charge detonations sometime 
between June 21, 2008 and September 20, 2008, conducted at a rate of 
one per week to allow time to perform detailed inspections of the 
ship's systems. Potential risk of impacts to marine mammals and sea 
turtles in summer is highest offshore of Norfolk and Pensacola and 
lowest offshore of Mayport. The Norfolk and Mayport locations are not 
considered environmentally acceptable during October through April due 
to the migratory patterns and presence (abundance) of the North 
Atlantic right whale. Endangered marine species are not likely to be 
adversely affected by the preferred alternative to conduct the proposed 
shock trial offshore of Mayport in the summer. All other aspects of the 
three test areas are similar. Based on the Navy's overseas deployment 
requirements for the ship class and, in particular, the availability of 
the ship, conducting the shock trial offshore of Mayport will meet the 
project purpose and need, satisfy operational requirements, and 
minimize environmental impacts.
    This Record of Decision leaves the selection of primary and 
secondary test sites within the Mayport test area to be made based on 
pre-detonation aerial surveys for marine mammal and sea turtle 
presence. This will ensure that the final test site selected for the 
shock trial poses the least possible risk to the marine environment.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. Dawn Schroeder, NAVSEA 04RE, 1333 
Isaac Hull Ave., SE., Building 197, Room 4W1673, Washington Navy Yard, 
DC 20376, telephone: 202-781-2291, and e-mail: dawn.schroeder@navy.mil.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The SAN ANTONIO Class ship designated as the 
shock ship for the proposed shock trial is USS MESA VERDE (LPD 19). USS 
MESA VERDE is the third ship in the SAN ANTONIO Class of nine planned 
amphibious transport dock ships being acquired by the Navy to meet the 
Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) amphibious lift requirements. Each 
new class (or major upgrade) of surface ships must be tested to assess 
the survivability of the hull and ship's systems and the capability of 
the ship to protect the crew after a near miss from an underwater 
explosion. Section 2366 of Title 10, United States Code (10 U.S.C. 
2366) requires realistic survivability testing of a covered weapon 
system to ensure the vulnerability of that system under combat 
conditions is known. Realistic survivability testing involves firing 
munitions likely to be encountered in combat to test for ship 
vulnerability, commonly referred to as ``Live Fire Test and 
Evaluation'' (LFT&E). The SAN ANTONIO Class is considered a covered 
system with an approved LFT&E program. The LFT&E program includes three 
major areas (computer modeling, surrogate testing, and an at-sea ship 
shock trial) that together provide for a complete and comprehensive 
evaluation of the survivability of the SAN ANTONIO Class. Only the at-
sea shock trial would provide the real-time data necessary to fully 
assess ship survivability. The shock trial is a series of underwater 
detonations that propagate a shock wave through the ship's hull under 
deliberate and controlled conditions simulating near misses from 
underwater explosions. The Navy can measure the effect of the shock 
wave on the hull, equipment, and personnel safety features of the ship. 
The shock trial is designed to demonstrate that all ship systems are 
capable of sustained operation performance during combat situations. 
This information is used to improve the shock resistance of the ship 
and follow-on ships of the class, thereby reducing the risk of crew 
injury.
    Alternatives: NEPA requires the Navy to evaluate a reasonable range 
of alternatives for implementing a proposed Federal action. The Final 
EIS analyzed in detail three alternative offshore areas (Norfolk, 
Virginia; Mayport, Florida; and Pensacola, Florida) during all four 
seasons. The No-action alternative was also analyzed in the Final EIS.
    Under the No-action alternative, only computer modeling and 
component testing already completed under the LFT&E were used to 
evaluate survivability. The No-action alternative was determined to not 
be a reasonable alternative because it would not provide the 
information and data necessary to assess the survivability of the ship, 
as required by 10 U.S.C. 2366. However, the No-action alternative was 
included in the comparative analysis of alternatives.
    Alternative offshore locations for conducting the shock trial were 
compared from both an operational and environmental perspective. To 
carry out its national security mission, the Navy operates under 
stringent scheduling and operational constraints to ready its frontline 
combat ships for overseas deployment. Since USS MESA VERDE must be 
prepared to commence its first deployment during Fiscal Year (FY) 2009, 
a number of key maintenance and training events, as well as other 
certification tests and trials, must occur in proper sequence to ensure 
suitable preparations for overseas movement. Accordingly, the 
availability of USS MESA VERDE would dictate the time of year when the 
shock trial would be performed. Currently, USS MESA VERDE is scheduled 
to be available for shock trial testing in the summer of 2008. Based on 
the availability of USS MESA VERDE during summer 2008, the best 
operational and environmental alternative is Mayport. This alternative 
is the Navy's preferred alternative. Of the three location 
alternatives, Mayport in summer is the environmentally preferred 
alternative.
    The Final EIS analysis focused on identifying alternative offshore 
locations to conduct the shock trial. USS MESA VERDE is proposed to be 
homeported on the East coast of the U.S. Therefore, based on 
operational requirements and personnel quality of life considerations, 
offshore areas other than East and Gulf coasts were eliminated from 
consideration. The Navy screened possible East coast and Gulf of Mexico 
locations according to the following operational criteria: personnel 
quality of life considerations, water depth, proximity to a Navy 
facility with homeported vessels or sufficient pier space for support 
vessels, proximity to an airfield for supporting aircraft, proximity to 
a Naval Station support facility, proximity to a vessel repair 
facility, proximity to an ordnance storage/loading station, vessel 
traffic, weather and sea state, and Gulf Stream conditions. A detailed 
analysis concluded that three test areas could operationally support 
the shock trial--Mayport, Florida; Norfolk, Virginia; and Pensacola, 
Florida. Although all three test areas meet minimal operational 
requirements, there is considerable variability between the locations 
in terms of marine species presence and status (e.g., threatened or 
endangered), as well as differences wi