Parks commission lets stand decision barring clandestine Navy training

A judge’s ruling that bars the Navy from using Puget Sound parks for clandestine training will stand.

A judge’s ruling that effectively bars the Navy from using Puget Sound parks for clandestine training will stand.

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission declined to file an appeal of Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon’s April 1 ruling in favor of Whidbey Environmental Action Network’s petition for judicial review. The longtime environmental advocacy group, commonly known as WEAN, argued that the commission’s decision to allow Navy training at parks to continue was outside its authority and violated state environmental law.

Dixon agreed with WEAN in an oral ruling that was notably critical of the commission.

“We’re delighted. With this closed, our parks are once again safe for families, children and those seeking peace in nature,” said Marianne Edain of Whidbey Environmental Action Network.

The lawsuit was in response to the commission’s 4-3 decision in January 2021 that directed staff to proceed with permitting the Navy’s plans for covert training in the parks, including the five state parks on Whidbey Island.

Dixon ruled that the commission violated the State Environmental Policy Act in failing to consider potential emotional reactions of park users to being exposed to Navy surveillance maneuvers. Zachary Griefen of Bricklin & Newman dubbed the concern the “creep factor.”

Navy SEALs had been conducting clandestine training in state parks for many years without formal approval from parks officials, according to court documents. Then in 2015, State Parks issued the Navy a five-year, right-of-entry permit. When that expired, parks officials required the Navy to go through a public process under the State Environmental Protection Act to continue training.

More than 8,000 people made comments or appeared at parks commission hearings to object to the plan. Nonetheless, the commission voted 4-3 to allow the Navy training.

Navy officials have stressed the value of cold-water training in Puget Sound parks. In defending the commission’s ruling, the state Attorney General’s Office argued that “creep factor” and other concerns were addressed by the commission and that the training wouldn’t displace any recreational activities.