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Navy SEALs have paused training operations in Washington state parks after facing a legal challenge from locals concerned about the environmental and psychological effects of “war games.”

One commenter wrote to state regulators, “I don’t care about glimpses of armed men walking around, and I certainly don’t want to risk my young grandchildren seeing such a sight.”

Navy SEALs have practiced cold water training and other special operations in state coastal parks for more than 30 years. The parks’ mountainous shores present unique challenges for commandos practicing covert raids and surveillance training, the Navy says, including “cold water, rapid tidal changes, multi-variable currents, low visibility, complex underwater terrain, weather and harsh terrain. .” The controversy centers primarily on parks near Washington’s Puget Sound, as well as along the state’s southwest coast.

The SEALs’ previous five-year contract to conduct training in five state parks expired in 2020. When the service tried to renew its contract with the state and expand the number of parks at which it could train to 28, it faced organized opposition. from local residents and park users.

Hundreds of Washingtonians submitted written and oral comments on the proposal, with the majority opposed. Commenters cited everything from environmental concerns to fears that the seals would disturb the peace.

“Plans to attack beaches in our state parks by apparently armed men is an irresponsible and dangerous idea,” one resident wrote during the public comment period.

“In these days of great division in our civil society, we don’t need sneaky men in camo uniforms toting toy guns around our state and county parks,” wrote another. “People park frequently to de-stress, avoid too many encounters. Keep Navy Commando training out of our parks!”

Others were concerned about the context of using drones or UAVs. A comment from the Skagit Audubon Society noted that “the Navy plans to use large, gasoline-powered UAVs as well as smaller, electric-powered types. This has significant potential for direct and indirect injury to birds, as well as hearing disruption. The experience of park visitors.”

Despite the public outcry, in January 2021 the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission voted 4-3 to approve a scaled-back version of the Navy’s original proposal, leaving some sensitive areas off limits for training and limiting operations to nighttime hours.

But in March 2021, the Whidbey Environmental Action Network (WEAN) filed a petition for judicial review against the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, arguing that the proposed training violates laws dedicating parks to the public for recreational and environmental purposes. He wants the judge to reverse the commission’s decision and order WEAN to pay attorneys’ fees and other costs.

WEAN argues that “many members of the public may avoid state parks for fear of facing proposed war games or being spied on by Navy personnel,” the group’s attorneys wrote in its opening brief filed last month. It’s hard to find peace in the jungle when you can.”

The case is scheduled for trial on April 1 in Thurston County Superior Court. said Steve Erickson, WEAN’s Litigation Coordinator Coffee or die magazine via e-mail that he expects the judge to make a final decision sometime after the hearing.

The Navy conducted 37 training programs — each lasting two to 72 hours and involving no more than eight trainees and a small security cadre — at Washington state parks from 2015 to 2020. Training included insertion and extraction of personnel by watercraft, reconnaissance. diving and swimming, Navy spokesman Joe Overton said coffee or dye in email.

No naval special warfare training was conducted in the parks in 2021, and operations are on hold again this year pending further review by the parks department, Overton wrote.

Navy officials say there have never been any incidents involving park visitors during previous exercises, and that the nature of the training should leave no trace of the trainees. According to Overton, the exercises are non-invasive and do not involve live-fire ammunition, explosive demolition, off-road driving or other destructive activities.

Critics have argued that the Navy should use the 46 miles of Washington coastline already under its jurisdiction for exercises instead of state parks. Navy officials have countered that the parks’ geography more accurately reflects the type of environment personnel might experience on missions.

“This area offers a unique cold water environment, extreme tidal changes, multi-variant currents, low visibility, complex underwater terrain, weather and harsh terrain, which provide an advanced training environment,” Overton wrote. “While the Navy has many assets in this area, they do not provide the full range of environments needed for this training to be as realistic as possible.”

Hannah Rae Lambert is a staff writer who has previously covered everything from murder trials to high school trap shooting teams.

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