Community vents on ‘compatibility’ with military

Jefferson County Commissioner Kathleen Kler expresses her concerns to representatives of the state Department of Commerce about the military’s land use development rights over the county, during an Oct. 30 meeting to solicit public input at the Tri-Area Community Center. 

Kirk Boxleitner

 

When the state Department of Commerce solicited input for a state guidebook that’s being drafted on “military and community compatibility,” residents of East Jefferson County gave them an earful.

Deanah Watson, program manager for military and community compatibility with the state Department of Commerce, was joined Oct. 30 at the Tri-Area Community Center by Julie Bassuk, partner with Makers Architecture and Urban Design, to explain how the guidebook is intended to serve as a technical resource for local governments to use in planning for development near military installations.

However, the civilian attendees voiced their criticism even before Watson and Bassuk had completed.

When Bassuk cited the economic benefits the region had ostensibly experienced due to having the Navy as a neighbor, Ron Richards, chairman of Save the Olympic Peninsula, asked if any studies had been conducted to determine how much the presence of the Navy might have cost the local economy.

Likewise, when Watson deemed the civilian community’s input as helpful to the development of the guidebook to facilitate land use planning down the line, Port Townsend’s Sebastian Eggert criticized such planning as “top down,” from the military to the civilian community.

Liz Rivera Goldstein took issue with what she saw as a complete lack of consideration of the area’s native wildlife, even as Eggert pointed out Olympic National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its wilderness and wildlife.

Richards warned of expanding military influence through such measures as state legislation, which he decried as affording the military “absolute control” over land use in any jurisdiction affected by military installations.

Bassuk responded by pledging the guidebook would clarify “who controls what” in land use and other planning, as well as what laws regulate the process, but the three Jefferson County Commissioners were less than reassured.

Commissioner Kathleen Kler said she was concerned about proposed legislation and the attendant of the county “giving away our development rights in perpetuity” to the military, over as many as 40,000 acres, while Commission Chairman David Sullivan noted the commissioners had written a letter to the state Legislature regarding their concerns about House Bill 2341.

“We’re concerned over a loss of local control,” Dean said. “Who’s in charge here?”

Goldberg further took issue with Bassuk using the phrase “military areas.” Although Bassuk acknowledged, “I should have said, ‘areas affected by military operations,’ ” Goldberg asserted that Bassuk’s words “show your true mindset” toward “military bases pushing into civilian areas.”

After Bassuk explained how the guidebook is being written to help reduce civilian impact on military operations, Anders Edgerton asked how the guidebook could help “demilitarize” the area, or at least diminish the military’s impact on civilians.

Bassuk responded this was “not in its purview,” and added the guidebook would not respond to local areas of concern, nor would it alter local military planning, nor influence the military’s land use or activity planning.

“Then why are we here?” Eggert asked, as Goldberg condemned the guidebook as a tool of “lockstep military control over the state.”

Richards condemned what he identified as the practice of “downzoning,” which he defined as the military lowering the value of a property in order to buy it out for below what its fair market value would be otherwise, and he sees that happening through the noise generated by EA-18G Growler flights from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

Jefferson County Administrator Philip Morley, who clarified he was speaking as a private citizen and not in his capacity as a county official, opened his remarks by assuring the military, “We value you, because you protect us.”

Nonetheless, Morley lamented “a missed opportunity” for productive dialogue due to the guidebook’s approach.

“What we’ve heard tonight has not been multilateral, but unidirectional,” Morley said. “The military impacts our communities, as we are hearing from our citizens tonight, just as the local community impacts the military. So, planning for compatibility needs to be from both directions. It needs to include how the military can be compatible with the community, not just how the community can be compatible with the military.”

Kler and Dean both called for the guidebook to include contacts for decisions made at the federal level, and Dean cited her outreach efforts to the Navy, the state Legislature and the federal government by saying, “I’ve developed some great relationships, and even I feel out of the loop.”

Department of Community Development Director Patty Charnas worried that Jefferson County’s economic and environmental needs would get lost in the shuffle because the guidebook is a statewide document.

Port Townsend's Julie Jaman pointed out that typical rotations of military members to new duty stations tends to result in new points of contact every two years.

“We need to know who’s staying, for consistent points of contact,” Jaman said.

Bassuk expects a draft of the guidebook’s content to be posted by February 2019, with another round of public comments contributing to its revision in the spring, in time for a targeted final publication by the end of June.

An online survey is now available to capture opinions and comments from communities to inform the project, at surveymonkey.com/r/WAGuidebook.

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