Pictured: The Boeing MQ-25 Stingray during handling exercises in 2018. Photo by Eric Shindelbower, U.S. Navy, courtesy of Boeing.

by Kimberly Rivers

Through Nov. 30, 2020, the U. S. Navy is accepting public comments on the draft environmental assessment (EA) for plans to construct the West Coast base of operations for the MQ-25A Stingray, a carrier-based unmanned air system (CBUAS) at Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC). 

Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Dist. 26) said the placement of the first Stingray squadron at the base demonstrates the importance of Naval Base Ventura County in “our nation’s 21st century defense posture.” 

If the project adheres to the current schedule, construction would take place 2023-24, with the program being at full operational capacity by 2031. According to Navy information, this type of unmanned drone is used primarily for in-air refueling, intelligence, surveillance and various reconnaissance operations to expand the reach of existing aerial operations from the NBVC. 

The environmental assessment evaluates any potential environmental impacts associated with the proposed project, including air quality, water, noise, airspace, public health and safety, biological resources and cumulative impacts. 

The assessment did not identify any significant impacts of the project, and also found the project will not be impacted by sea level rise associated with climate change (Appendix A). 

Brownley serves on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and said the Department of Defense and all military installations “must prepare for and adapt to the threats posed by the climate crisis.” She acknowledges efforts of NBVC to do just that and pointed to the “first-of-its-kind partnership with The Nature Conservancy” in evaluating the base’s “coastal resiliency.” 

She referred to information in Appendix A of the environmental assessment which “concluded that this specific project location is sufficiently inland and it should not be affected by sea level rise,” but she noted that “portions of the base are undoubtedly at risk from sea level rise and coastal erosion,” and said she’ll “continue to work with the Navy to ensure the base is protected from these threats.”

Impacts to Bell’s vireo, a federally listed bird species, will be mitigated by limiting certain activities to outside the nesting season. 

The project does include the removal of three or four large pine trees, which will be coordinated with the base’s Environmental Division to avoid impacts to owl species that may be nesting in the trees. 

The new facility includes a new hangar, training facilities and other infrastructure to house and support 20 Stingray CBUAS planes, which would result in about 35.6 acres of impervious surfaces added to the base property. According to the draft documents the project is slated to use “low impact development methods” that will not reduce groundwater infiltration or recharge levels in the areas. Bridges and other crossings would be constructed where wetlands are impacted, and grated crossing would be used to help avoid impacts to the wetlands. The project would require consultation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board for the necessary permits pursuant to the Clean Water Act. 

It is estimated that the facility would conduct approximately 960 flight operations each year and bring an additional 730 personnel and their families to the area. Personnel associated with the project would be added in staged phases over three to five years.

The operations would result in a 2.4 percent increase in flight operations at the base and would extend the range and reach of the carrier air wing squadrons and detachments at the base in support of national defense objectives. 

While the project is slated to be within the 100-year floodplain “no practicable alternative” was identified, as no sites at the NBVC are outside of the floodplain and this is the sole location that meets the requirements of the program. Mitigation measures include raising the pavements and buildings above the floodplain elevations. Additional storm drains and retaining walls are planned.

Boeing builds the Stingray under a current contract valued at $803.5 million dollars at the Navy Base at Patuxent River in Maryland. 

Public comments must be received or postmarked by 11:50 p.m. Eastern Time on Nov. 30, 2020.

Details, the draft environmental assessment and the online comment form are online at www.nepa.navy.mil/stingray/

A hard copy of the Draft Environmental Assessment can be viewed at two locations in Ventura County: Ray D. Prueter Library, 510 Park Ave., Port Hueneme and E.P. Foster Library, 651 E. Main St, Ventura. 

Public comments can also be mailed to: ATTN: MQ-25A Stingray CBUAS EA Project Manager, Code EV21JB, Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Atlantic, 6506 Hampton Blvd., Norfolk, VA 23508