Navy extends comment period on special ops training

The area where the Navy conducts special operations training may be expanded to include Whidbey Island.

In addition, the number of training operations conducted each year may significantly increase, according to a draft Environmental Assessment, or draft EA.

The Navy extended the public’s opportunity to comment until March 23.

The EA can be viewed online at https://navfac.navy.mil/NSOEA. Some environmental groups have recently raised an outcry about the draft EA because some of the alternatives being considered would increase the number of operations and the areas where they can be conducted. Save the Olympic Peninsula, an environmental advocacy group based in Port Angeles, sent out a press release stating that the EA doesn’t adequately address the long-term environmental consequences or the possibility of conflict between the public and trainees.

However, Sheila Murray, public affairs deputy for Navy Region Northwest, pointed out that the areas the Navy is looking at aren’t “set in stone” but are still being analyzed.

“The training only happens in areas where the Navy has permission to be,” she said, adding that it could include state, federal or private property.

The point of the exercises is for the trainee to be invisible to the public and to leave no trace behind.

The cold-water training opportunities available in Puget Sound are invaluable to special operations, Navy officials said.

Examples of activities include diver and swimmer training, insertion and extraction training, launch and recovery activities, unmanned underwater vehicle training and over the beach training.

The description of the special reconnaissance training explains that the trainee “would hike to an observation point while remaining hidden, use observation techniques, follow procedures and report back on a scenario involving role-play with military instructors or support staff.”

The Navy has been conducting the training exercises for 30 years in region 1, which includes shoreline areas of Puget Sound generally north and west of Whidbey.

Murray said special forces haven’t trained on Whidbey in a decade. Depending on the outcome of the draft EA, they will probably use Whidbey every two to three years.

The map of the possible training sites in the draft EA highlights Deception Pass State Park, Fort Ebey State Park, South Whidbey State Park and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

Special forces currently conduct two training blocks a year, which are 2-8 week periods of time where 70 naval special operations trainees and support personnel.

The EA presents three alternatives, as well as a no-action alternative.

The alternatives differ in the area where the training will take place, the number of individuals involved and the number of training exercises that will occur.

The Navy’s preferred alternative would include two regions in Puget Sound and a region on the coast. A new proposed activity, high-angle climbing, would occur at Deception Pass.

The number of training blocks would increase to six times a year.

Comments about the EA can be sent to nwnepa@navy.mil

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