OLYMPIA — A Thurston County judge has blocked the Navy’s special forces from using Washington’s state parks as training grounds, casting their activities as “creepy” and against the parks’ mission of recreation.
Judge James Dixon on Friday declared illegal the Washington State Parks Commission’s 2021 ruling to allow Navy SEALs to use up to 28 parks, in a decision first reported by the Northwest News Network. The judge said the commission’s 4-3 decision, appealed by environmental groups, didn’t do enough to consider how the training could deter park use.
The commission is still reviewing the judge’s decision; the state had yet to issue any permits to the Navy for training, said Amanda McCarthy, a spokeswoman for Washington State Parks.
Navy SEALs have been training in the cold-water environments of the Pacific Northwest since the 1980s, and the diversity of terrain of the state parks “provides these personnel an advanced training environment to be ready for global mission tasking,” according to J. Overton, a Navy spokesman.
“With the State Parks unavailable, the military members who need this critical training, which takes place only a few months each year, will have fewer options to hone their unique skills,” Overton said. “They will continue to train in the other Washington State areas which have granted permission.”
There are private lands and other jurisdictions, such as the city of Bremerton, where the SEALs are still allowed to train. The Navy has a right of entry agreement at Evergreen-Rotary Park, for instance, according to Jeff Elevado, the city’s parks director.
The Navy maintained a previous agreement to use a small number of state parks, including Illahee State Park, before 2020. Navy officials submitted a far larger proposal to the state parks commission for the use of up to 28 parks, including 17 on shorelines, for training simulating beach landings.
Thousands of public comments, a majority of which were critical of the proposal, were written to the commissioners. Even with their 4-3 vote to allow for such training, the commissioners curtailed the footprint for use in the parks and required SEALs to peform such work at nighttime.
Whidbey Environmental Action Network, representing a coalition of environmental groups, had appealed the commissions’ approval saying it “created a precedent for public lands throughout Washington and allowed damage to our treasured state parks that could be irreparable,” said Steve Erickson, a founder of the network.
The Navy said previously that no problems have arisen from its training at state parks in the past and vowed no real weapons would be used. The Navy argued the coldwater training environment is invaluable to the SEALs’ missions around the world.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Josh Farley is a reporter covering Bremerton and the military for the Kitsap Sun. He can be reached at 360-792-9227, email@example.com or on Twitter at @joshfarley.