Navy training in state parks challenged; Day of Action set Saturday

By Jessie Stensland

South Whidbey Record

and Leah Leach

Peninsula Daily News

A South Whidbey environmental group is challenging a decision by a state commission to allow Navy special forces to conduct clandestine training operations in state parks.

In addition, a coalition opposed to the training at state parks is calling for a statewide Day of Action on Saturday.

Two parks on the North Olympic Peninsula are included in Saturday’s Day of Action: Fort Flagler and Fort Worden, both in Port Townsend.

The day will be low-key and informal, said Allison Warner and Larry Morrell, event coordinators for Not In Our Parks.

Family friendly and socially distant activities at the parks will include tailgate tabling at boat launches and main parking areas; “picketing” and signage at park entrances; signature gathering and handing out informational fliers.

“We invite everyone to ‘adopt’ a nearby park and join us for the Day of Action,” Warner said. “There will be simple actions to help educate others who value our parks for recreation and nature appreciation.”

It will start at about noon in both parks, according to Warner and Morrell.

The point will be to “educate people about what’s going on and give them an opportunity to express their opinion by writing a letter to the governor, signing a petition on the group’s website at notinourparks.org or in any other way they choose, Morrell said.

Petition filed

Whidbey Environmental Action Network (WEAN) filed a petition for judicial review against the state Parks and Recreation Commission in Thurston County Superior Court on Monday.

WEAN is a member of Not In Our Parks, but acted on its own in filing the petition, Morrell said. Other members of Not In Our Parks are the Calyx School, Environmentalists Against War, Friends of Miller Peninsula State Park, Olympic Environmental Council, Spokane Veterans for Peace and World Beyond War.

The WEAN petition cites several grounds for review, including that military training isn’t one of the uses allowed in parks under state law.

“Despite overwhelming public opposition, the commission approved this grossly incompatible use,” said Steve Erickson, litigation coordinator for WEAN. “Allowing military training in state parks is terrible policy. It’s also illegal.”

On Jan. 28, the state Parks and Recreation Commission voted 4-3 to allow the issuance of permits to the Navy for the purpose of conducting special operations training in coastal parks.

A State Parks spokesperson said Monday that no permits had been issued so far.

Joe Overton, deputy public affairs officer for Navy Region Northwest, said the Navy doesn’t discuss pending litigation, but he did comment on the value of the training.

“The Puget Sound, Hood Canal and the southwestern Washington coast offer unique and varied coastal conditions which create opportunities for realistic and challenging special operations training in a safe, sheltered, cold-water environment,” he wrote in an email.

“This area provides extreme tidal changes, multi-variant currents, low visibility, complex underwater terrain and rigorous land terrain for Naval Special Operations (NSO) trainees, an advanced training environment enabling them to be ready for global mission tasking.”

The Navy’s five-year proposal is to conduct training in 28 state parks, although restrictions on the proposal would likely decrease the number of state parks that could be used to just 16 or 17. Navy SEALs have previously only had permission to use five parks.

In addition to Fort Worden and Fort Flagler, the list also includes Sequim Bay State Park, Deception Pass State Park, Joseph Whidbey State Park, Fort Ebey State Park, Fort Casey State Park and South Whidbey State Park.

WEAN’s lawsuit argues that the proposed training in state-owned parks is inconsistent with laws that dedicate the parks to the public for recreational, ecological and aesthetic purposes.

“These clandestine operations have a high likelihood of interfering with public park purposes and recreational opportunities at the state parks subject to the Commission’s decision,” the petition says.

In addition, WEAN argues that the commission violated the State Environmental Policy Act by adopting the final mitigated determination of non-significance on the Navy’s proposal.

WEAN is represented by Bryan Telegin and Zachary Griefen of Bricklin & Newman, LLP, of Seattle.

The Navy League of Oak Harbor pointed out that the special ops have been covertly training in parks for decades without any complaints or incidents.

“Navy Special Forces take extreme risks on behalf of our nation and its citizens,” the League said. “They should have our firm support. Plus, they should have access to diverse and demanding training environments to minimize those risks.”

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