A federal judge says the Navy can build a $100 million offshore training range for submarine warfare off the coast despite environmentalists' concerns that it would threaten endangered right whales.
U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood ruled the Navy took a "hard look" before concluding risks to whales would be minimal off the coast of southern Georgia and northern Florida, where the whales migrate each winter to give birth. She cited case law saying judges should give "great deference" to the military regarding its training.
The Southern Environmental Law Center sued the Navy in 2010, saying the range would threaten right whales with ship strikes, entanglement with parachutes and possible harm from sonar.
Environmentalists asked the Navy to suspend training during the five-month calving season. The judge says the Navy "rationally rejected" that option.
The Navy concluded that installing 300 sensors and attached cables on the undersea range would pose virtually no threat to the whales because construction would be suspended during the calving season from November to April. It also concluded the risks of ship strikes would be minimal based on computer models showing few whales would be in waters that far out to sea.
The Navy's lawyers also insisted vessels from Naval Station Mayport and Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay routinely post lookouts to watch out for whales during calving season. No collisions between Navy ships and whales have been reported since those precautions were implemented 15 years ago.