OLYMPIA — State Parks and Recreation Commission staff members have extended the deadline for public comments regarding the Navy’s request for permits to use 28 state parks — several on the North Olympic Peninsula — for sporadic SEAL training and the proposal’s subsequent environmental review.
The Navy requested to expand on a prior contact that allowed the entity to use five state parks between 2015 and 2020 for training— including Fort Flagler and Mystery Bay in Jefferson County — back in spring, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the discussions were put on hold until the end of January.
Officials want to expand to include more parks so that the Sea, Air and Land Forces (SEAL) teams will have to adapt to new environments each time and also in case any one park was being used by the public when training was scheduled, said Joe Overton, deputy public affairs officer for Navy Region Northwest.
The prior contract expired in May, according to the state park’s website.
Among the additional parks are Fort Townsend, Fort Worden, Shine Tidelands and Dosewallops in Jefferson County and Sequim Bay State Park in Clallam County.
The staff for the commission requested a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review of the Navy’s request for the 28 parks and “found the proposal does not have a probable significant adverse impact on the environment,” according to the state park’s website.
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. Jan. 22.
The commission will meet virtually through Zoom at 4 p.m. Jan. 26 to hear comments regarding the Navy’s proposal.
Anyone who wants to give verbal comment must register beginning at 9 a.m. this coming Monday. Registration order does not determine comment order, according to the website. More information about the meeting and the process will be available once registration opens. Registration closes at 5 p.m. Jan 20.
Public comment can also be physically mailed to WSPRC, Attn: Becki Ellison, PO Box 42650, Olympia, WA 98504.
The commission meeting on Jan. 26 can be viewed at tinyurl.com/PDN-WSPRMeeting or listened to over the phone by dialing 312-626-6799 or 888-788-0099, using webinar ID: 979 7491 6906.
The original deadline for public comment was Jan. 6.
Previous trainings at the state parks have had no adverse effects on the environment and there have been no complaints from park users about the Navy’s training operations, said Toni Droscher, state parks and recreation spokesperson.
Other parks the Navy has used in the past are Blake Island, Illahee and Scenic Beach state parks.
In addition to parks on the North Olympic Peninsula, the Navy also is seeking permits to use Manchester, Pacific Pines, Cama Beach, Salsbury Point, Camano Island, Cape Disappointment, Deception Pass, Grayland Beach, Joseph Whidbey, Skagit Island Marine, Fort Casey, Twin Harbors, Fort Columbia, Leadbetter, Fort Ebey, South Whidbey, Westport Light and Triton Cove state parks.
The Whidbey Environmental Action Network (WEAN) opposes the permits and has a petition on Change.org (tinyurl.com/PDN-NavyPetition) that has garnered more than 4,300 signatures as of Thursday through-out the last 10 months, after the petition was created in February.
“Everything about this proposal is wrong,” the petition says.
“State parks prohibit the display of guns and other weapons, intimidating and disturbing park employees, volunteers and visitors. The environment is put at risk.
“There is the potential for tragic accidents such as when two military trainees posing as terrorists in North Carolina were shot by an unsuspecting deputy.”
Overton said that the training is comprised of at most eight SEAL trainees, who are then overseen by a observation and safety team. The SEAL’s goal is to pass undetected and leave no trace, he added.
No munitions will be used and the trainings emphasize leaving no trace; the SEALs are graded by how well they accomplish that aspect, he said.
The SEALs start their training in Hawaii, where the water is warmer, tides are calmer, weather more predictable and ground more easily navigated.
Training in the Puget Sound exposes them to rougher waters and terrain (both on land and under water), cold water and forces them to adapt to an unknown location, Overton said.
“There’s really no other region in the continental U.S. that has these environments,” he said.
The state parks do not receive any financial gain from allowing the Navy to use the parks, outside of possible permitting fees, he added.
Overton confirmed that it is highly unlikely for the public to see any of the trainees during a training event, as the trainees’ goal is to remain undetected.
They may see the instructors and support staff. If someone does enter the training area — which did not happen during the prior five years of training — the training is stopped, he said.
WEAN said “essentially this is war gaming,” about the training on the petition.
Overton disagreed, saying war games are completely different and the focus of this training is on detection avoidance, using skills such as swimming and rock climbing that regular park users do at the parks.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected].