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More comment being taken on Navy's Washington state training plan

By KIMBERLY CAUVEL | The Skagit Valley Herald | Published: December 26, 2020

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. (Tribune News Service) — The Washington State Parks Commission determined this week that, should the Navy be allowed to conduct special operations training in Deception Pass State Park and 27 others, the training would not cause significant environmental harm if certain conditions are met.

Those conditions outlined in what is called a mitigated determination of non-significance include avoiding active restoration sites, avoiding protected plant and animal species, and not training during nesting seasons for sensitive birds.

State Parks also proposes conditions on the Navy proposal, including that it not bring real weapons into the parks, not spy on park users, and that it coordinate training dates and locations with tribes.

Public comments on the determination are being accepted online, by email and by mail through Jan. 6, and a special public comment meeting is set for 4 p.m. Jan. 26. The State Parks Commission will next discuss the Navy's plans at its Jan. 28 meeting.

The majority of the 384 written comments State Parks has received on the issue oppose allowing the training because of impacts to user privacy and experiences, as well as impacts to natural resources.

Fourteen comments specified potential impacts at Deception Pass State Park.

The Navy proposes bringing special operations teams to the park to practice moving from water to land under the cover of darkness, scaling rock walls and disappearing into the brush for a day or more. Deception Pass State Park is the only location where the Navy proposes honing rock climbing skills of its trainees.

Two commenters said the training would feel like an invasion at the park. Several said existing Naval Air Station Whidbey Island training involving Growler jet flights over the park already affects visitors.

"Deception Pass State Park is already inundated with aircraft noise from NAS Whidbey ... We do not need uniformed soldiers with weapons storming our beaches, hiding in our underbrush, or scaling our rock formations along with the shock and awe of the Growlers," one wrote.

The Skagit Audubon Society is among commenters who expressed concern about habitat and wildlife, including birds such as the protected marbled murrelet.

"Marbled murrelets are frequently present in the waters immediately offshore of Deception Pass State Park," Skagit Audubon's comment states. "Training operations both during the day and at night ... will almost certainly interfere with the normal resting and foraging ... of this rapidly declining seabird."

Skagit Audubon said other bird species that could be impacted include the pigeon guillemot and peregrine falcon.

The Whidbey Environmental Action Network's comments focused largely on the impact rock climbing could have at Deception Pass State Park.

The network said climbing, while allowed in many areas including at nearby Mount Erie and in the North Cascades, is not allowed under the Deception Pass State Park plan, and allowing an exception for the Navy could inspire others to seek permission.

"There is absolutely no reason why State Parks should allow this in Deception Pass State Park," the organization wrote.

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