SSNW petition sparks debate: SSNW, opponents take case to county

Posted 6/27/17

Kirk Boxleitner

kboxleitner@ptleader.com

Longstanding tensions between a Discovery Bay security business and its neighbors resurfaced June 26 during the public comment period of the Jefferson …

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SSNW petition sparks debate: SSNW, opponents take case to county

Posted

Kirk Boxleitner

kboxleitner@ptleader.com

Longstanding tensions between a Discovery Bay security business and its neighbors resurfaced June 26 during the public comment period of the Jefferson County commissioners.

Mark Clark submitted a petition from the Discovery Bay Alliance, comprised of county landowners and residents “disturbed by public nuisance noise,” noise they claim has originated from Security Services Northwest (SSNW) on Old Gardiner Road.

The petition calls on commissioners to “publicly affirm” that a hearing examiner’s report and decision on the land use of the SSNW “is and has been the law” since it was signed July 27, 2009.

The petition further contends that the 2009 report and decision limits SSNW and Fort Discovery to providing weapons training only to those security guards employed to provide security at the Old Gardiner Road Site, and not to any off-site employees or non-employee third parties such as law enforcement, military, other companies or the public.

A number of people spoke about concerns about noise before SSNW President Joe D’Amico took to the podium.

D’Amico disputed the accounts of automatic weapons fire, saying that untrained ears could mistake test fire for multiple shooters. He also resurrected grievances against the county, including his accusations that county officials had failed to make available some public records for trial about the issues dating back seven years ago. The claims had been the basis of his 2010 case that the county had denied him the right to a fair hearing.

“We felt that we didn’t get our day in court,” D’Amico said of the past.

According to D’Amico, his company is actively seeking to mitigate any impacts to the surrounding community, and searching for sites other than Fort Discovery to conduct business. D’Amico noted that he’s scheduled a June 30 meeting with the county Department of Community Development (DCD) to go over the permitting process and questions.

PETITION ALLEGATIONS

The Discovery Bay Alliance petition urges the county to “take appropriate legal action for past violations,” and to establish accountability procedures for the future, with Clark suggesting online logs of all weapons used at the site, including who is shooting which weapons, for how many rounds, and at which locations.

Gabe Ornelas was a founding member and former president of the Discovery Bay Alliance before his death in January. His widow Robin attended the June 26 meeting and contradicted Justine Wagner’s comments on behalf of Fort Discovery.

Wagner had reported meeting with Donna Stamper of Jeffcom to review the numbers of calls logged regarding Fort Discovery from 2011-17. According to Wagner, Jeffcom logged one call per year in 2011, 2012 and 2014, with zero calls in 2013, seven in 2015, five in 2016 and eight in 2017. She added that a number of these reported noises were later determined to have not originated from the SSNW site.

Robin Ornelas countered that multiple calls had previously been grouped together, citing one incident when “10 calls in one day were marked as one call.” She said a new incident numbering system logs them individually.

“I’m closest to the noise, since I live right on the water, but I haven’t called since the court order,” resident Mike Kenna said, immediately after Ornelas had spoken. “It’s one of those situations where you keep thinking it’s going to go away.”

Noreen Parks, who said she lives “fours streets up from the water,” recalled calling the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department once, but being told that nothing could be done.

“When court orders are not enforced, and they’re allowed to operate illegally, it creates a free-for-all,” Parks said.

John Hamilton of Port Hadlock was one of a number of speakers to say he was disgusted. As a Vietnam combat veteran, Hamilton finds the noise of gunfire especially disturbing.

“If they want to play with automatic weapons, they should join the damn military,” Hamilton said.

Wagner, in turn, reminded the commissioners that the county includes two other shooting ranges, as well as two gravel pits that are used for firing, and asserted that those other ranges had not met required standards.

“The county should be pursuing these public safety and health risks, rather than an old vendetta,” Wagner said.

SSNW INVITES NEIGHBORS

Jennifer Scott, vice president of communications for Security Services Northwest, characterized SSNW as making good-faith attempts to communicate with the Ornelas family and other neighbors, noting that no one had taken the company up on its invitation to tour the facility.

Scott also disputed the description of the 2009 hearing examiner’s report and decision as a “court order.”

After the commissioners’ morning meeting June 26, Clark expressed dismay at what we saw as D’Amico’s possible threats to make public parts of his court battles with the county. At the same time, Clark emphasized that he bore D’Amico no ill will as a businessman.

“I am a big supporter of Security Services Northwest in all its legal pursuits,” Clark said. “They create jobs and pay taxes, and I wish them success with anything that’s not violating the limitations of their land use.”

Commission Board President Kathleen Kler confirmed that D’Amico had been working with County Administrator Philip Morley in exploring the potential for an alternate site.

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