Elite Navy SEALs might one day practice their stealthy maneuvers at Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park.
That scenario could unfold if the Navy follows through with a proposal it’s considering to significantly expand its Special Warfare training in the Puget Sound.
Other sites the Navy would like to use include Gig Harbor’s marina and a shore at Ilahee State Park in Kitsap County.
Olympic Peninsula activists published military documents outlining the Navy proposal to the website Truthout on Monday. They show the Navy has identified almost 70 sites in the region that it would like to use occasionally for Special Warfare — better known as SEAL team — training.
The documents suggest the training might begin as early as this month.
Navy officials reached by The News Tribune said that was not the case, although they would not comment on the record. They said the proposal was “months or years” away from taking place.
“We are in the very, very beginning stages of planning,” Navy Region Northwest spokeswoman Sheila Murray said.
State officials who received a courtesy notice from the Navy in November also said the proposal has not moved forward.
It’s not clear whether the Navy still wants to pursue training at all of the sites listed on the Truthout documents or if it has refined its request.
“I don’t feel like anyone is trying to sneak a SEAL team in without telling us,” said Jim Baumgart, a policy adviser to Gov. Jay Inslee.
He contacted a senior-ranking Navy officer at Navy Region Northwest when he learned about the idea two months ago. He said he encouraged the Navy to “be open, be transparent.”
He reached out to the same office Monday and was told the proposal had not advanced since his previous call.
Very few other public officials have communicated with the Navy about the SEAL proposal.
The state Department of Historic Preservation received a phone call about it in November. Notes from the call generally affirm that the Navy wants to provide SEAL teams with a variety of exercises at almost 70 sites throughout the region.
A Navy representative who called the state agency said the military intended to abide by federal environmental and historic preservation laws.
“They haven’t gone through the process,” said state Historic Preservation Officer Allyson Brooks. “We haven’t heard anything since then.”
Some of the locations are on Navy property and SEAL training presumably already occurs there. Those sites include Naval Magazine Indian Island, the Bremerton shipyard and Naval Base Kitsap Bangor. The Navy also has perennial permits at several North Puget Sound state parks that allow training similar to what’s described in the documents, a State Parks spokeswoman said.
Training likely would include scenarios in which Navy SEALs approach a beach in an inflatable or submersible boat, swim ashore and conduct some land-based exercise, according to the documents and the Historic Preservation notes.
It also might involve simulated weapons, according to the Historic Preservation notes.
In some instances, public access to a shore could be restricted during a military exercise. Navy officials would have to negotiate those events with civilian agencies, a process that occurs when other Northwest Special Operations units train on public land.
Sites could be used up to eight times a year, or they might not be used at all in any given year, according to the Historic Preservation notes.
An exercise typically would involve up to 20 SEAL team members and up to 10 support personnel.
Several activists who have closely followed recent Navy training proposals said they worried the Navy either would conduct operations without notifying civilian agencies or receive a blank check to train wherever they please.
“If you get people thinking, ‘Gosh, is the Navy sitting in the woods over there with these simulated weapons? Is it safe to go in there?’ I think you are going to get people to use the parks less because this is so massive,” said Karen Sullivan of the activist group West Coast Action Alliance.
She’s a retired assistant regional director for external affairs at the Fish and Wildlife Service who has been critical of the Navy’s recent expansion plans in the Northwest.
Officials at MetroParks Tacoma and Gig Harbor said they have not been contacted by the Navy.
The state Department of Natural Resources and Washington State Parks also have not heard from the Navy about possible SEAL training on the scale described in the documents, spokeswomen for the agencies said.
The Port of Tacoma is on the list of Navy training sites, too. It has hosted Navy SEAL exercises on a regular basis for years, but has not been contacted for the training outlined in the Truthout story.
Port spokeswoman Megan Anderson said the Navy gives the agency at least a one-month notice before conducting an exercise. Port and Navy officials then have several coordination meetings before it takes place.
Special Operations units often seek out training opportunities away from standard military facilities. They look for rural and urban scenarios that would allow them to practice situations they might encounter around the world.
The Green Beret, Army Ranger and Army Nightstalker aviation units at Joint Base Lewis-McChord are some of the units that sometimes obtain permission to train on state and federal land in the Northwest.
The SEAL proposal is on the table at a time when Navy Region Northwest has faced criticism for a proposal that would add a ground component on public land to jet training that occurs in the skies above the Olympic Peninsula.
The Navy wants to send satellite trucks into Olympic National Forest for electronic warfare exercises. Jets flying above the forests would be challenged to find signals from the trucks.
Some peninsula residents felt the Navy did not advertise the plan well. They have challenged it with thousands of letters to the U.S. Forest Service.