Navy proposes expanded training for SEALs at Washington state parks

By THORIN SPRANDEL | The Daily World | Published: February 26, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — The U.S. Navy has applied to the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission to expand the number of western Washington state parks it would use for Special Operations training. They want to go from five parks to 29, including four in Grays Harbor and three in Pacific County.

And most likely, you’ll never know they were there, said Sheila Murray, Navy Region Northwest Public Affairs deputy. “They’ve got to practice all this stuff and not be seen. Once they’re seen, they have failed. It’s all very covert. Nobody’s going to see or hear them.”

Twin Harbors, Westhaven, Westport Light, Grayland Beach in Grays Harbor County and Leadbetter Point, Pacific Pines and Cape Disappointment in Pacific County are among the Navy’s proposed training sites.

The Navy currently has a Right of Entry permit that allows SEALs to conduct similar training in five Puget Sound-area state parks: Blake Island, Fort Flagler, Illahee, Mystery Bay and Scenic Beach. That five-year permit expires May 1. The commission is expected to make a decision on the application at a regularly scheduled meeting this spring or summer.

The number of training events is not expected to increase over prior years, said Murray. The Navy wants to add more parks to its permit to give the SEALs more options, variety and to make training more realistic, she said.

“If they keep going to all the same parks all the time, there’s no challenge,” she said.

“They come to the Pacific Northwest for advanced-level training. This is one of their final steps before they’re actually deployed. If they can do it here and not be detected, then their next step will likely be to be deployed,” according to Murray.

“They also contact local law enforcement and tell them where and when they’re training, so if someone does see them and has a concern and they call the police, the police can explain to the public what’s going on and can also notify the SEALs that they’ve been seen, which would end the training,” she said.

“The Navy has protocols in place to make sure that the public doesn’t just stumble across trainees in the field, and they have protocols to stop the training if the public does get too close,” said Anna Gill, Washington State Parks communications director.

Most of the training they do near the Washington coast is related to tides.

“When they’re in Puget Sound, they don’t have that,” Murray said. Navy SEALs have been training in the Northwest for the last 30 years without incident, she added.

“We haven’t had any incidents reported to us,” Gill confirmed.

According to the Navy’s application, the types of training that would take place include insertion/extraction, high-angle climbing, over the beach and surveillance and reconnaissance. During insertion/extraction events, trainees may approach or depart an area using submersible craft to include UUVs and ROVs, jet skis or small boats. Training events would range between two and 72 hours and training cycles are annual during January through November. Most activities would be carried out during daylight hours, but with a main objective to be the avoidance of detection, there will likely be minimal interaction with the public by the trainees, the application said.

“The Navy is using other land, both federal and privately owned, however State Parks land provides essential elements such as variability in topography, water depth and climate that are not sufficiently available through the use of these other properties,” according to the Navy application.

Parks staff is reviewing the application and will provide a report to the commission at its upcoming meeting on March 12 in Chelan. Public comment will be taken at the Chelan meeting.

“This is something that we’re going to be doing our due diligence on, making sure that we review the proposal, that the commission has all the information that they need to make an informed and responsible decision,” Gill said.

The public also will have an opportunity to provide comment at a special public meeting on Wednesday, May 6, at Fort Worden Historical State Park in Port Townsend.

For more information about the proposal, the Navy’s application, a public comment form and a link to the meeting broadcast, see parks.state.wa.us/navyproposal.

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