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Orlando Sentinel

Navy Makes Case To Keep Bomb Range

by Jason Garcia

February 23, 2002
Copyright © 2002
Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

The U.S. Navy has decided that having a little bit of TNT in the groundwater or vaporizing the occasional scrub jay is a small problem when it comes to having its bombers prepared for war.

In a study released Friday, the Navy acknowledged that there are environmental consequences to dropping bombs in Ocala National Forest. Nevertheless, the Navy recommended it be allowed to continue using the Pinecastle Electronic Warfare Range for the next 20 years.

The Navy's lease with the U.S. Forest Service to use the 5,800- acre swath of forest expires July 31. The release of its environmental-impact study marks the beginning of a 30-day public comment period for voicing concerns. After that, the U.S. Forest Service will make its final decision.

Jim Thorsen, a district ranger with the Seminole Ranger District, said approval is virtually certain.

"We hardly have any complaints right now," he said. Naval officials hope the Pinecastle environmental study will allay criticism about noise, safety and environmental damage. Most of the concerns, the Navy determined, were minor.

In 1998, a limited groundwater screening turned up TNT in one of four wells, according to the report. But the study points out that the amounts were substantially below Florida Department of Environmental Protection standards.

The study also concedes, "with regard to the Florida scrub jay, eastern indigo snake and sand skink there is a possibility that the use of the target areas may result in the incidental take of these three species." But the study also says those "incidental" deaths are not likely to jeopardize the overall population of the three threatened species.

The Navy has said it will develop a groundwater-monitoring plan and that the Forest Service, in coordination with the Navy, will monitor wildlife populations.

Not everyone is satisfied.

"It's quite clear what they don't want is a whole lot of people making a whole lot of noise," said Carol Mosley, state coordinator of the Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice and one of the range's most outspoken critics.

Two summers ago, a study by the Center for Naval Analyses determined Pinecastle would be integral to the Navy as it explored using a combination of training sites to replace its use of Vieques island in Puerto Rico .

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