Navy SEALs training proposal met with concern by Washington state commission
By KIMBERLY CAUVEL | Skagit Valley Herald | Published: November 22, 2020
(Tribune News Service) —The Washington State Parks Commission is in the midst of discussions about whether public lands, including Deception Pass State Park, are appropriate place for the military to train.
Two Navy officials spoke with the seven-member commission Thursday, answering questions about the Navy's proposal to train on public lands and acknowledging the need to address the public's concerns.
A training at Deception Pass State Park could look something like this: A small submersible carrying eight Navy SEALs approaches the shoreline at night, while the park is closed to the public. A few SEALs swim to shore and enter the park under the cover of darkness. Once in the park, they stay for 24 to 48 hours.
"We need this training. It is necessary and brings our special operations warfare teams home safely," said Rear Adm. Stephen D. Barnett, commander of Navy Region Northwest.
Of concern to the State Parks Commission is a swell of public opinion against this type of exercise happening at the 29 parks included in the Navy's proposal.
"We've received a lot of public comments almost universally opposed," Commissioner Sophia Danenberg said.
A top worry of the public is a perceived infringement on privacy.
"The public is very reluctant for you to have access to our parks," Danenberg said. "There's a creepiness factor that even if you're never seen, we know it's happening and it's making the public uncomfortable."
Barnett and Chief Warrant Officer Esteban Alvarado said trainees would not spy or eavesdrop on the public.
"We're not going to be watching you and your kids doing marshmallows," Barnett said.
The Navy said the focus for those taking part in training would be on staying silent and still after choosing a hiding place. Those skills could save their lives on a real mission.
"Naval special operations need the use of state parks ... to prepare these men for the worst possible scenario, to ensure they are the best and are prepared for the missions; to do them safely and get back to their families," Alvarado said.
He said state parks in the Puget Sound region are the focus of the Navy's proposal because the varied geography and weather conditions make the region a critical training ground.
"No other region in the continental U.S. provides our naval forces the same (opportunity)," Alvarado said.
He said the state parks included in the proposal offer terrain not found on Navy properties, including at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, where previous development flattened terrain above ground and under water.
"They provide little complexity for underwater submersibles and how we move in the water column," Alvarado said. "State parks, in contrast, are in fast-moving areas hard to get into and that offer a challenging environment for our operators."
Deception Pass State Park is the only park where tactical rock climbing could be practiced.