Navy special forces use state parks for training

By Allison Arthur of the Leader
Posted 1/12/16

UPDATED 5 p.m. Jan. 13 (See addition at bottom of text)

Washington State Parks has issued a right of entry permit to the U.S. Navy that allows nighttime training exercises at five state parks, …

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Navy special forces use state parks for training

Posted

UPDATED 5 p.m. Jan. 13 (See addition at bottom of text)

Washington State Parks has issued a right of entry permit to the U.S. Navy that allows nighttime training exercises at five state parks, including Fort Flagler State Park and Mystery Bay State Park.

Brian Hageman, manager of Fort Worden Area Parks, told the Leader that the Navy has used Fort Townsend and Fort Flagler state parks and has at least once in recent years used Fort Worden.

The Washington State Parks permit was issued to Naval Special Warfare Group 3, based in California. Units would have access to submersibles and other small craft intended to help Navy special forces personnel operate clandestinely.

"It's basically coming [ashore] in the middle of the night, hiking to a location, hiding, and hiking back out," Hageman said. The Navy has a public affairs officer and communication staff on site for possible interaction with the public, Hageman said.

"They like this area because it has cliffs, saltwater and represents real training," Hageman said. “It's always been really low key."

Fort Worden State Park is not part of a five-year permit issued by the state in September 2014, according to Virginia Painter, Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission communications director. Other parks in Jefferson County are on the list, including Fort Flagler State Park and Mystery Bay.

“This is activity that's been done for years but typically the arrangements were made as an FYI [for your information] to a particular park manager, but we decided in this case there was a request to land at five parks so we did it as a single right-of-entry permit,” Painter told the Leader Jan. 12.

In addition to Fort Flagler and Mystery Bay state parks on Marrowstone Island, the permit the state issued includes three in Kitsap County: Blake Island State Park in Manchester, Illahee State Park on Port Orchard Bay and Scenic Beach State Park in Seabeck.

Painter said there is no other permit approved or pending to use any other state parks.

“It's like any other boat coming in and landing and taking off. That's why it's a right of entry permit. There's not a huge impact,” Painter said. She said a special activities permit would be required if parks officials thought there could be an impact from the Navy training.

Painter said the Navy paid $345 for a five-year permit in September of 2014 and that it must give a three-day notice of any night-time activity.

A copy of the Navy's state parks permit is attached to this story on ptleader.com.

Painter said she had heard something about the Navy's training plans, but did not have many details about it until she started getting calls on Monday.

“Yesterday I got a couple of calls and then we found out there was an article in a publication making a lot more of it … I think that's raised some concerns,” she said of an article in Truthout.org.

The Leader contacted several Navy officials on Jan. 12 for comment, and received no response by press deadline.

'DOMESTIC WAR GAMES'

That Truthout article, written by Dahr Jamail, is headlined, “Navy Uses U.S. Citizens as Pawns in Domestic War Games,” and was published online Monday, Jan. 11.

Two unclassified documents that appear to be Navy-authored and that are attached to the Truthout report were written by Margherita Parrent and titled “Proposed NSW Training within the Pacific North West.” One appears to have been written in 2014 and the other appears to have been written in 2015 for 2016.

The Leader contacted Parrent Tuesday morning, Jan. 12; she declined comment and referred the Leader to two Navy public affairs officers, Keith Goodsell and Mark Walton. She declined to confirm the authenticity of the documents. The other Navy personnel contacted did not return calls or emails.

The Truthout web story indicates that beginning in mid January 2016, Navy SEALs would be practicing “unannounced and clandestine combat beach landings across Washington State's Puget Sound and many other coastal areas of that state.”

One version of the apparent Navy document describing the training lists 68 training sites in the Northwest; the second one, which appears to be an update of the first, lists just 28 sites.

A variety of proposed types of training, from “combat swimmer” to “direct action” to “insertion and extraction” to “launch and recovery operations” were listed in both documents.

The 2015 document lists proposed training sites in Jefferson County that include Fort Worden State Park, Port Hadlock marina, Port Townsend marina, Indian Island, Port Ludlow, Shine Tidelands State Park, Mats Mats Bay, as well as Discovery Bay, Dosewallips State Park, Toandos Peninsula and Zelatched Point, with other sites including Deception Pass State Park, Westport Light State Park, Grayland Beach State Park and Leadbetter State Park.

The 2015 document appears to be a list for 2016 training sites, though it also says it is “proposed.” It lists Fort Flagler, Mystery Bay, Port Townsend marina, Indian Island, Port Ludlow marina, and Mats Mats Bay, Toandos Peninsula and Zelatched Point. Fort Worden is not on the most recent list.

The latest document also indicates there are two training cycles: the first from mid-January to mid-February 2016 and the second from mid-February through mid-April of 2016.

It says there would be 20 students and 50 support staff involved in the training and that the training cycle “consists of a cycle of darkness or 24 hours in duration” and that a goal would be “not to be detected by others in the area” and that “upon exit from these areas there is no tell-tail sign of their presence.”

A submersible craft and rigid hull inflatable boats would be used, the document says.

KINDS OF TRAINING

The document goes so far as to specify the duration and frequency of the training at each park and it outlines what kind of training action would be done.

For example, at Fort Flagler State Park, the document indicated that it would use that park six to eight times a year from 2 to 72 hours and that the training would involve launch and recovery, insert and extraction, over the beach, direct action and reconnaissance training. It says training would take place at the Port Townsend marina 24 times.

The document details what all those kinds of training involve.

Insertion and extraction would involve using small submersible craft or small boats to train personnel to insert and extract people and equipment during the day or night; launch and recovery would involve a small submersible battery-powered craft that would deliver four to six personnel to train within 20 to 800 yards from shoreline. Over-the-beach training would also involve a small submersible craft or watercraft while special reconnaissance would involve up to two small submersibles, the document says.

PARKS USE QUESTIONED

The Truthout article also quotes Karen Sullivan, a Port Townsend woman who worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is a retired endangered species biologist. She is now part of West Coast Action Alliance, and considers herself a watchdog of Navy activities in the Northwest.

Sullivan told the Leader Jan. 12 that she thinks the Navy has been doing training in all of the 68 sites listed in the first 2014 document and she is concerned that it's gone unnoticed.

“I think they've done a lot of training without people being aware of it,” Sullivan said.

“The documents point to the fact that training at these sites has been possible, likely, potential, whatever word you want to use, since 2014. And it worries me because when you get direct action and military combat training in civilian areas, especially areas where people aren't expecting it, it is incompatible. That's a big concern.

“Is the normalization of military activity in civilian areas where it didn't previously exist a good thing? I don't think so,” Sullivan said.

Painter, the state parks spokesperson, repeated that Fort Worden State Park is not on the 2014 permit.

“There are no other permits with state parks that I'm aware of,” the communications director said.

Painter also said she was advised that one state park was used in 2015, but she was not clear on which one.

“I know there were a few times in May through July of last year but I don't know how many. By the permit, they are asked to contact the park manager and give them heads up,” she said. “They are night-time activities. Part of the skill is water transport at night.”

Painter also said that the official responsible for approving the permit advised the Navy that if they did land a vessel on a state park beach they'd need a Discover Pass access permit.


NAVY USES PORT RAMP

The Port of Port Townsend has not been contacted by the U.S. Navy regarding possible special use of port property for training missions, Larry Crockett, port executive director, said Jan. 13.

"We have not been contacted," Crockett told the Leader. "If they want to use our facility for training, I would expect them to contact us and we'll go from there."

(Crockett was unavailable for comment when the Leader attempted to contact him Jan. 12 for the news story in our Jan. 13 edition.)

Crockett said he learned Jan. 13 that apparent Navy documents had been published and were the subject of widespread media coverage. He reviewed information on a website that appears to be a PowerPoint slideshow presentation for the Navy. Crockett noted that although Washington State Parks apparently has had a permit agreement with the Navy for special training access at select state parks, the documents that Crockett connects to port property note the need for an environmental assessment and property agreements.

That's not to say the Navy does not already use the port's boat launch. Navy units have used the public ramp at the Port Townsend Boat Haven for training missions off port property, Crockett said.

The port's launch ramp is open 24/7, said Crockett, and the Navy would be expected to use the on-site kiosk to pay a ramp fee the same as any other customer. Along with recreational and commercial use, the Navy, U.S. Border Patrol and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency sometimes access the ramp, which is currently being expanded from one lane to two lanes.


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