Langley City Council passed a resolution in opposition to the Navy’s proposed expanded usage of state parks for training that would include activities on land and in the water.
The Navy has used state parks as training sites for decades. Its previous agreement with the state, which gave it permission to practice in five state parks, ended earlier this year.
The Navy’s new proposal includes 28 parks as possible training sites, including Deception Pass, Fort Casey, Fort Ebey, Joseph Whidbey and South Whidbey state parks.
A document explaining how each park would be used can also be found on the state parks website.
The five state parks in the Navy’s previous permit were not in Island County.
Though there are no state parks located within city boundaries, Langley City Council members felt it important to pass the resolution.
“We believe that as stakeholders in the well-being of residents and visitors it is appropriate for us to express a position on the matter,” Mayor Tim Callison wrote in a letter addressed to state park officials, Island County commissioners and Gov. Jay Inslee to go along with a copy of the resolution.
The resolution claims that military training is not within the mission of state parks, and calls for Washington State Parks to create a policy prohibiting military training during civilian recreation, urges the state legislature to write a law against such usage and encourages the public to express their views to state park commissioners.
The resolution also references an online petition.An Internet search found a change.org petition with over 4,000 signatures in support of rejecting the Navy’s proposal.
Some of the activities include insertion and extraction, diving, swimming, over-the-beach movement, rock climbing (at Deception Pass only), and special reconnaissance. The goal is for trainees to remain undetected.
One area of concern about the Navy’s proposal is the idea that the Navy will be conducting surveillance on the civilians in the park without them knowing; however, the Navy has said that is not true.
“The Navy will not be conducting surveillance of any members of the public, either through trainees or unmanned aircraft,” Rear Adm. Stephen Barnett wrote in a letter dated Dec. 4.
“Special Operators will be attempting to surveil designated military personnel, who are essentially actors putting on a show for the trainees to observe,” Barnett wrote.
The service members would be acting in a way that is “completely benign” to people at the parks, he said.
If a member of the public were to encounter a trainee, Barnett’s letter explained that the trainee would be directed to respond with a rehearsed statement: “I am a U.S. service member in the Navy conducting military training. Our unit has an approval with the State Parks to train at this location but will leave the area immediately.”
Then the training would end and service members would leave.
The letter also said the Navy does not intend nor have specific plans to use unmanned aircraft in the parks.
State Parks found that the Navy’s proposal would not have “probable significant impact” on the environment, according to a State Environmental Policy Act Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance dated Dec. 21. It lists several conditions to protect the environment and prohibits public surveillance, requires trainees to avoid steep slopes and feeder bluffs and allows replica weapons to simulate the bulk and weight of gear (but not ones capable of launching or firing projectiles), among other requirements.
The Navy’s proposal is expected to be on the Jan. 28 regular State Parks commission meeting agenda.