PORT TOWNSEND — The public comment period regarding the U.S. Navy’s proposal for SEAL training at 28 state parks ends today at 5 p.m.
The Port Townsend City Council and the Jefferson County commissioners both approved letters to the state Parks and Recreation commission regarding the environmental review of the Navy’s proposed training at state parks.
North Olympic Peninsula parks eyed for Navy training are Fort Flagler, Mystery Bay, Fort Townsend, Fort Worden, Shine Tidelands and Dosewallips in Jefferson County and Sequim Bay State Park in Clallam County.
The City Council approved a letter saying the draft State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) mitigated determination of non-significance failed to examine the effects of noise pollution and turbulence of the Navy’s aquatic vehicles.
The county commission approved two letters, one drafted by the Marine Resource Committee (MRC) saying the SEPA review does not evaluate potential impacts on the Navy’s submersibles on aquatic vegetation such as eelgrass and kelp and another letter drafted by commission Chair Kate Dean.
The council letter, signed by Mayor Michelle Sandoval, said several Port Townsend residents do not believe state parks are appropriate for the Navy Sea, Air and Land Forces (SEAL) team training, and that the SEPA review does not analyze the effects that noise pollution and turbulence have on Salish Sea marine life such as orcas, according to the letter.
“Noise pollution may interfere with the ability of marine animals, specifically orcas, to use echolocation to find food and communicate with their pod,” the council letter said.
“The Southern Resident orcas population is dwindling, in part due to the increased noise in the Salish Sea. The mitigation requirements also do not account for the consequences of increased water turbidity that proposed training will cause.”
The letter by the MRC, which the county commissioners attached with their letter, said that eelgrass and kelp are critical habitats for wildlife such as chinook salmon, which use the vegetation to hide from predators such as southern resident orcas, and the SEPA review fails to address the impacts.
In addition, the MRC said the Navy training may affect conservation efforts at Fort Townsend, North Beach and Fort Worden state parks, as well as other areas in the county.
According to the draft of the letter written by Dean, in addition to the environmental concerns listed by the MRC, the commissioners want more transparency with the Navy concerning long-term effects of growing Navy activity in Jefferson County to be analyzed.
“We recognize the Navy as an important and beneficial neighbor and value its role in maintaining national security,” said Dean in Thursday’s draft letter. “That said, the increasing impacts from military training are done without environmental or economic mitigation.
“Our tax base is not benefited by having a residential installation like our neighbors in Kitsap or Island Counties enjoy. While we have made strides in improving collaboration with the Navy, we continually ask for greater transparency and improved communications with local governments for the benefit of our local residents.”
The Navy has said parks will not be closed during the training of, at most, eight SEALS at a time. The goal is for trainees to pass undetected and leave no trace, the Navy has said.
The review and mitigation that state parks included can be viewed at parks.state.wa.us/865/SEPA-review—-current. Written comment regarding the review can be submitted at that website and are due by 5 p.m. tonight
The commission will meet virtually through Zoom at 4 p.m. Tuesday to hear comments regarding the Navy’s proposal.
The commission is garnering written comment as well that are due tonight at 5 p.m. It can be submitted through an online form at parks.state.wa.us/1168/Navy-training-proposal or emailed to [email protected]
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected].