Navy Combat Training Coming to Our Neighborhoods

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UPDATE – February 10: At the open house, Navy representatives said the public will not be shown boundaries or shut out when the Navy is conducting an exercise on public or private lands, “…so you may wander unawares into a secret military exercise, uninformed that by doing so, you are a participant.”

Another Navy representative said, “…the point is to be able to watch and track whoever comes through—you, the public, “the enemy,” without your awareness, whether you’re walking, fishing, enjoying nature, or otherwise going about your business.” He suggested that people should not be doing anything in the woods for which privacy might be needed, because “…we might be watching you.”  Which is highly ironic given that an entire Navy unit’s command was fired last week after being found drunk and naked in the woods, the second time in less than a year that an entire command has been fired.

A third confirmed that the public is to be the proxy for the enemy: “That’s the point: for the military to take down enemies without being detected. If the public detects us, then we’ve failed in what we’re trying to do.” He then assured listeners that the Navy would use “…environmentally friendly gentle fake bullets.”

Statements like this do not represent a healthy relationship between the Navy and surrounding communities. The absence of discussion in the Draft EA, and the absence of any sensitivity on the Navy’s part at the open houses, on how people might feel about being used as practice enemies for the military with neither their knowledge nor consent, to be watched at any time or any place by armed military combatants along more than 265 miles of Puget Sound coast, is as stunning in scope as is the proposal itself.

 

February 6, 2017 ~ The Navy has opened for comment an Environmental Assessment (EA) for Special Operations in which Navy SEALs stage covert small team landings via mini-subs and small boats, with up to 20 personnel concealing themselves ashore for up to 72 hours, plus mock gun battles with paintballs, called “direct actions.” Although the Navy owns 46 miles of shoreline in the Pacific Northwest and over 151,000 acres of land here, this combat training will occur in our communities, boat marinas, 65+ state parks, public beaches, and on some private lands in Puget Sound and on the outer coast. It’s possible that this training may entail climbing some of the steep glacial till cliff faces around Port Townsend, which local residents and property owners know are already dangerously eroding. One of the places selected for mock gun battles with paintballs includes the memorial peace park atop the bluffs at Fort Worden, which some residents interpret as a stick in the eye, not to mention being an assault on a place that has historic, cultural and spiritual value.

Click to enlarge the image below. From the EA – cliff scaling is expected.

Scaling cliffs

Here’s a map of training sites. Click to enlarge. Purple = combat training. Most of these are civilian populated areas with ecologically sensitive shorelines.

Special Ops training Map

Below is an example of an insert that’s put into a real weapon in order to allow it to shoot paintballs. The weapons these people will be carrying are not “simulated” as claimed.

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The Navy will close off a buffer of 500 – 1,000 feet around its actions, which amounts to a summary closure of public property if you happen to be using the beach or shoreline when they’re landing. State law requires a public process for closing public access to state park property. State law also prohibits conduct in state parks that “would make a reasonable person fearful.” This EA would result in a permit to do that in dozens of populated locations for several months each year. Normalizing combat training in our lives where we live and recreate so that the Navy can “hide” in full combat gear in our midst is not acceptable. Neither is trampling sensitive shoreline habitats we have been trying to protect and restore.

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This is a startling development, made more so by the fact that there’s something wrong with the numbers the Navy is giving us.

According to the EA, a maximum of 84 personnel will be training during the spring, summer and fall, and they will spread out among multiple sites to minimize damage to sensitive shoreline habitats. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the full story. In an email obtained by Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action via an Open Records Act request, an aide in the Governor’s office expressed surprise and concern that the Navy evidently intends to cycle through this training the entire Marine Raider Regiment (at least 1,200 personnel) and the dive teams from the 1st Special Forces Command (about 800 personnel.) 2,000+ personnel per year is a much different and far more damaging scenario than 84.

If you want to actually talk to someone in the Navy about this, here are the details on three open houses this week, and we’ve provided a list of questions below. Open houses are what the Navy does instead of holding a real hearing in which the public gets to ask questions and hear answers as a group. You can submit written comments at these open houses, but we will also be writing sample comments soon for the public to adapt as they see fit.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018 from 5 – 8 pm in Poulsbo, WA: North Kitsap High School Commons, 1780 NE Hostmark Street.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018 from 5 – 8 pm in Port Townsend, WA, Blue Heron School Commons, 3939 San Juan Avenue.

Thursday, February 8, 2018 from 5 – 8 pm in Oak Harbor, WA, Oak Harbor School District ASC Board Room, 350 S. Oak Harbor Street

If you can’t attend these, the comment period is open until February 21. We will help by providing sample comments. You can email your comments to: nwnepa@navy.mil or you can snail-mail them to:

Naval Facilities Engineering Command Northwest

Attention: Project Manager, EV21.AW

1101 Tautog Circle, Suite 203

Silverdale, WA 98315-1101

There appears to be no online comment page.

Here’s a quote about training for clearing buildings, with mock gun battles. Click to enlarge.

Mock gun battles

Here’s a quote about stealth beach landings and hiding in the bushes. Click to enlarge.

Hiding in bushes

Here’s a list of questions to ask the Navy:

  1. Why the disparity in the number of personnel? 2,000 vs 84 is a big difference.
  2. The EA says not every site will be used every year, but some sites will be used as often as 36 times per year. With this many personnel trampling sensitive shoreline habitats during nesting season across so many miles of shoreline, the impacts are likely to be significant, so why isn’t this being treated as a major project with a proper EIS instead of minimized with a much shorter EA? (Note: An EIS = Environmental Impact Statement; it’s often 1,000+ pages and takes at least a year with a far more thorough analysis and public process.)
  3. The mini subs will be using sonar in the shallows. That’s where juvenile fish, crabs and other species live during a vulnerable part of their lives. Why is this dismissed as not significant?
  4. The Navy has been doing this training on a smaller scale without notifying the public, for the past 8 years, and possibly as many as 30. Why did you wait so long to start the public process? The law says we are supposed to have a say in what happens in our communities before you make decisions.
  5. How is it possible to avoid damaging historic and cultural sites, especially those belonging to Tribes? There are 18 historic and cultural properties in just one of three training “regions” listed in the EA. Has the Navy formally consulted with local governments on historic and cultural sites, and if not, why not? If so, may we see the reports?
  6. Have the needs of Tribes to preserve their treaty rights been addressed? If so, how?
  7. With a project this large, why has the Navy not initiated Endangered Species Act consultations with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service? Did the Navy exempt itself from having to consult, and if so, how?

We must all insist that this EA be stopped and a proper EIS be prepared for a project of this magnitude.

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To download the EA, click here: https://navfac.navy.mil/navfac_worldwide/atlantic/fecs/northwest/about_us/northwest_documents/nw__national_environmental_policy_act_nepa_documents/NSOEA.html

EA cover

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