EDITORIAL: Navy training: Time for a public hearing

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The U.S. Navy owns miles of beachfront along Puget Sound, including all of Indian Island in Jefferson County, extensive coastal territory around Naval Air Station Whidbey Island as well as Bangor Base in Kitsap County.

So why does the Navy need to use public state parks, public marinas as well as miles of private shoreline in Jefferson County to train Navy SEALs?

That was the question The Leader posed in an editorial in 2016 and that is still the question we’re asking today.

The Navy says, in essence, that it simply wants to be able to conduct special shoreline training for SEALs in a cold-water setting in such a way as to not be detected. A map of Fort Worden State Park shows areas outlined in pink, red, blue and yellow indicating various types of training planned: blue for over-the-beach, pink for direct action, red for insertion and extraction, and yellow for surveillance and reconnaissance.

What if, at those moments when the Navy is doing its secret training, there are people walking their dogs, lovers exchanging vows, mentally ill people trying to flee the woes of the world or perhaps a suicidal person walking the beach?

Who knows what might happen when trained Navy SEALs “invade” public areas with no notice.

The Navy could easily do this training on its own property, property that is already designated for the Navy to conduct its business.

It appears the Navy is setting up its SEALs to get real-world experience – with us, Jane and Joe Public, as the unsuspecting actors in the “simulated combat landings.”

We strongly suggest Jefferson County residents turn to elected officials to insist on a full public hearing.

The deadline is today for commenting on the proposal by the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command to conduct these training exercises on public beaches and marinas in Jefferson County.

To date, there has been no official public hearing – only informal workshops.

POSSIBLE SITES IN 2016

Back in 2016, the list of possible “landings” included Fort Flagler State Park, Mystery Bay State Park, the Port Townsend Boat Haven, Mats Mats Bay, Port Ludlow Bay, Toandos Peninsula, Zelatched Point and Indian Island. Some of the areas, including Fort Worden State Park, had already been used for such purposes, unbeknownst to the public.

In fact, back in 2016, it was revealed that Washington State Parks had been notified and had given permission for that training dating back to 2014 – again with virtually no public notice.

While, understandably, the Navy has needs for secrecy, a long-term incursion onto public parklands deserved more public announcement than it got in 2014, which we said in 2016.

In May 2017, the Navy came to Port Townsend, not for a public hearing, but for a public meet and greet.

Training our men and women in the military is important, and it’s true that Jefferson County has been used by the Navy for more than 70 years, as Sheila Murray, public affairs deputy for Navy Region Northwest, pointed out at one recent meeting.

What people are concerned about now, however, is “muddying the line between civilian and military spaces.”

It’s starting to feel that all spaces belong to the military and the public has no place and no rights.

In 2017, a map of where the Navy expected to train did not include all of Discovery Bay and all of Dabob Bay. In 2018, all of those shorelines, estimated at roughly 260 miles of shoreline, is now included.

Has the Navy informed all of those shoreline property owners of the possible use of their shorelines for training? That’s not clear.

The past two meetings in Port Townsend have been open houses, where tables divided people and Navy representatives, who offered information, though many of them did not give their full names,.

The public has a right not just to know the Navy’s plans, but to thoroughly comment on those plans, especially when they involve public parks, public marinas and private property.

Now is the time to speak up and demand more time to comment – and a full public hearing.

— Allison Arthur

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