Ed Friedrich, Kitsap (Washington) Sun
17 December 2015
The Navy has sued Kitsap County to try to prevent it from releasing Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor emergency plans.
In January, Glen Milner asked Kitsap County Emergency Management for records regarding potential consequences of a radiological accident at the submarine base and planned responses to it. The Kitsap Sun, researching a project about a major earthquake, piggybacked on the request in October.
In denying the request, the Navy has said it will inform residents how to respond if a catastrophic incident unfolds.
The emergency response plan was created and is held by the county but contains information the Navy says has national security implications. The Navy and county, guided by different public disclosure laws, disagree on what information can be shared. County attorneys believe they're legally obligated to provide documents that the Navy says can't be released. The clash got to a point in June
when the U.S. attorney's office in Seattle, representing the Navy, threatened deputy prosecuting attorneys Alex Foster and Shelley Kneip with criminal and civil prosecution.
The county informed the Navy that it would release the records if the Navy didn't get a court order by Wednesday.
The Navy filed the complaint Monday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma. The court Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the county from releasing the records and scheduled a preliminary injunction hearing Dec. 24.
Foster said the county is determining its next move.
"We're still in the process of reviewing and considering what our options are and what we will do next," she said.
The 18-page complaint lays out the Navy's arguments why the state's mandatory disclosure provisions don't apply to the documents in dispute. The Navy claims the information — which Kitsap Emergency Management obtained participating in exercises at Bangor — was only to be used for the exercises and couldn't be disclosed without the Navy's consent. The information is covered by federal laws prohibiting disclosure of unclassified nuclear information and critical infrastructure security information. And the state's public records act exempts security information from mandatory public disclosure, the Navy says.
Information the Navy seeks to protect regards plans for responding to nuclear weapons accidents and incidents, the names of federal employees with special knowledge and expertise, convoy routes for nuclear-capable missiles and warheads, and incident response force information, according to the lawsuit. Bangor is home to eight Ohio-class submarines that are capable of launching Trident ballistic missiles.
None of that information would need to be included in a radiological accident plan that instructs the public where to listen for information, how and when to shelter in place, and how, when and where to evacuate.
"It is clear that the Navy intends to have complete control of information," said Milner, a Seattle peace activist associated with Poulsbo's Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action. "The Navy wishes to determine what the public should know."
The county contends that releasing only information approved by the Navy would be considered an incomplete document under state law and expose it to penalties.
"I am hoping that the Navy and the county will share their emergency response plans with the public," Milner said. "Obviously, the Navy does not want this to happen."
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