Nukewatch Quarterly Spring 2016
By Ground Zero
The Navy is suing Kitsap County, Washington to try to stop it from releasing Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor emergency plans. The country’s third-largest Naval base is home to a nuclear shipyard, a strategic nuclear weapons facility, and eight nuclear-armed Trident ballistic missile-firing submarines. US District Court in Tacoma issued a temporary restraining order halting Kitsap county’s release of the records. In January 2015, Ground Zero’s Glen Milner asked county emergency management staff for records regarding potential consequences of a radiological accident at the base and its planned emergency response. The Navy denied the request and said it will inform residents how to respond if a catastrophic incident occurs.
Last June, the US attorney’s office in Seattle, representing the Navy, threatened to sue deputy Kitsap county prosecuting attorneys Alexis Foster and Shelley Kneip. The Navy contends some of the documents have national security implications and should be protected.
The Bangor disaster “response plans are in place, and nobody knows anything about them, so they don’t really do anybody any good,” Milner said. “They’ve gone to the trouble of creating the plans, but they don’t want to tell anybody about them.”
The county and US attorney’s office continue to release information to Milner as it’s processed, though their relationship is chafed by different disclosure laws — the Washington Public Records Act and the federal Freedom of Information Act.
Because the emergency response plans were created by the county and are held by the county, state law applies. Normally the county would process Milner’s request and if the feds disagreed, they could seek an injunction. Instead, the feds are making redactions and withholding records based on federal law. The county then reviews the actions to ensure they conform to state law.
Michele Earl-Hubbard, with Allied Law Group, said Milner’s request is a county responsibility and covered by state law. The US attorney’s office should stay out of it unless it wants to file for an injunction. Milner’s request hasn’t transpired that way, however, and at this point, for timeliness, records should go straight to him without county review, which can be performed later.
“The local agency has to provide the ‘fullest assistance’ and ‘most timely response,’ and they’re not giving that when they sit on a request for nine months,” she said. “People need to know where to evacuate, not just the bureaucrats.”
Ground Zero compiled reports from the Associated Press and the Kitsap Sun for this article.