OLYMPIA — Training for Navy SEALs in an amended number of state parks has been approved by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.
The approval, provided in a 4-3 vote on Thursday, amended the Navy’s proposal to expand the state parks it uses for training Sea, Air and Land Forces (SEAL) teams.
Each park will have to be permitted separately and by requiring more parameters on where permits would be allowed, the state has effectively reduced the number of parks that will be used. The “best guess” is that the original 28 parks would be cut to 16, according to Toni Droscher, State Parks spokesperson.
North Olympic Peninsula parks the Navy originally requested to use were Fort Flagler, Mystery Bay, Fort Townsend, Fort Worden, Shine Tidelands and Dosewallops in Jefferson County and Sequim Bay State Park in Clallam County.
In addition to parks on the 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, Westhaven, Fort Ebey, South Whidbey, Westport Light and Triton Cove state parks.
It is unknown at this time which parks will end up being permitted.
More than two hours of testimony was provided on Tuesday, much of it from residents who were opposed to the plan.
Jan Mikus, a concerned citizen from Anacortes, said the proposal didn’t fit the state parks’ core values of preservation, public enjoyment, excellence, transparency and kindness.
“Military training is inappropriate in our parks and it’s at odds with the stated mission of the parks,” Mikus said.
Carolyn Lancet, another concerned citizen against the proposal, said the current chair of the commission has made that point before.
“Back in November, commissioner Steve Milner admitted that this request is not in alignment with the parks’ overall mission and vision,” Lancet said. “And I agree, it’s not.”
According to J. Overton, the deputy public affairs officer at Navy Region Northwest, the Navy has been using state parks for similar training for “decades” through single use agreements between individual parks and the Navy.
“And then a few years ago (in 2015], we decided to make the agreement with the parks department themselves,”
Overton said. “Everything else is pretty much the same. It’s just that now, if one park is not available, we might have the opportunity to train at another one.”
Overton confirmed only dummy firearms are used in the drills and added civilians won’t notice a change.
“(Civilians) can expect to expect nothing,” Overton said. “There’s not going to be any change to the public.”
Those assurances, similar to ones provided by the Navy during an earlier public meeting in November, did little to quell fears of unwanted impacts. However, a State Environmental Policy Act analysis conducted by the state parks found that with appropriate steps, adverse impacts can be avoided.
The SEPA review process focused on limiting damages to the natural park environments, cultural resources and public safety. The review was spearheaded by Steve Brand, Partnership, Planning, and Real Estate Programs Manager, and Jessica Logan, Environmental Program Manager – both for the parks department. They recommended that the commission move forward with the approval process if mitigation recommendations are met.
More information on the amended proposal can be found on the Washington Parks and Recreation Commission website (parks.state.wa.us).