Indian Island case could remain tied up in courts despite Supreme Court ruling

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

Commanding officer touts economic benefits of Indian Island to Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce

By Charlie Bermant

Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — The Navy ordnance depot on Indian Island provides Jefferson County with both transitory and permanent economic benefits, the base skipper told the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce on Monday.

Cmdr. Gary Martin said the “small” operation at Naval Magazine Indian Island purchased about $8.5 million in goods and services from local sources between Oct. 1, 2007, and Sept. 30, 2008.

The greatest single share of this, $3.5 million, went to Port Townsend-based Intellicheck Mobilisa, while several other local companies entered into contracts with the Navy.

These figures have increased in the last three years and cannot be accurately calculated, according to Martin, because much of the economic impact is indirect.

Martin — a 20-year Navyman who took over as commanding officer last October after serving nine months as skipper of the Naval Weapons Station in Charleston, S.C. — said 430 military retirees live in Jefferson County and have bought homes and spend money in the county.

Every year, seven ships stop off at Indian Island for extended periods, each with between 105 and 165 crew members who spend their liberty periods in Port Townsend or Port Hadlock.

“The county gets an economic benefit from these visitors since they eat in our restaurants and shop in our stores,” Martin said.

“And you never know who they are because they are not in uniform.”

Martin said the Pacific Northwest’s reliance on the ocean has a historical basis, due to its proximity to the sea and connection to shipping lanes.

As the world becomes more connected, the local economy is affected by anomalies in worldwide sea traffic, such as those caused by gas prices and piracy.

“Washington is one of the most trade-dependent states in the country with one in three jobs that are trade related,” he said.

“The supply lines are susceptible to even minor distresses and can have disastrous effects on the economy,”

Martin said Washington state exported more than $6 billion in goods to China in 2010.

Changes in the shipping lanes can affect this, he said.

“The success of these transactions are dependent on open sea lanes for commerce,” he said.

“If something is interfering with shipping routes, then the companies will pay more for insurance or reroute their ships, both of which can increase cost to the consumer in the global and local markets.”

Martin said the Navy has maintained shipping lanes since the end of World War II, “sustaining the amazing economic growth that America has shown in the second half of the 20th century.”

The Navy, he said, can be effective just with its presence.

“Just showing our flag can be a deterrence and can discourage thugs like we see in Somalia,” he said.

Aside from deterrence, the Navy has a more benevolent influence with disaster relief, he said.

And with its influence on local communities, it preserves the American way of life.

“On an average day, more than 40,000 sailors are deployed and more than half of our 287 ships are on the way around the world,” he said.

“The Navy is responding to demands with more agility and more flexibility than we’ve ever seen before.”

Martin, in his talk at the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce membership luncheon Monday, made no reference to a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier in the day in a lawsuit that precedes his command of Indian Island by at least six years.

The high court, in an 8-1 decision, said the Navy cannot use an element of the Freedom of Information Act to withhold records on blast zones that could affect Port Townsend and Marrowstone Island in the event of an explosion at the ordnance station.

The suit is based on records sought in 2003 and 2004.

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Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.
PORT TOWNSEND — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Navy cannot use a particular exemption in the Freedom of Information Act to withhold explosives data and maps showing extent of damage if there were an explosion at Naval Magazine Indian Island.

Writing for the 8-1 majority, Justice Elena Kagan threw out a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, rejecting the Navy’s use of a Freedom of Information Act exemption that deals with a federal agency’s “personnel rules and practices” to withhold the maps and other data.

Kagan said that part of the federal disclosure law concerns “issues of employee relations and human resources.”

But Kagan said the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, Exemption 7, which protects “information compiled for law enforcement purposes” from disclosure, “remains open for the Ninth Circuit to address on remand.”

Indian Island spokeswoman Sheila Murray said the Navy is reviewing the 35-page decision, including Justice Stephen Breyer’s dissent (the text of which is available at http://tinyurl.com/46bgmh8).

“It still has to be litigated,” Murray said. “It’s not over yet. Of course the Navy respects what the Supreme Court said.”

Glen Milner, 59, of Lake Forest had filed the FOIA request in 2003, he said Monday.

“We don’t have the records yet,” said Milner, a peace activist and unemployed electrician.

But he called the ruling “a historic change in the law” that will limit the federal government’s ability to withhold information on the basis of personnel policies.

“I’m happy about it,” Milner said.

“I thought our case was good. I know I’m an individual person who was going against the Navy. I wanted the case to be about FOIA, not about a peace activist challenging the Navy.

“It’s still about the FOIA. The Navy is an honorable agency. Their concerns do not necessarily match the rest of society’s.

“People have a right to know what’s going on in their backyards.”

Naval Magazine Indian Island provides ordnance logistics, including storage, to Northwest Navy ships and the Pacific Theater of operations.

It covers 7 square miles across the bay from Port Townsend and adjacent to Marrowstone Island.

Milner said people who live near the base have valid reasons for wanting to know whether they would be endangered by an explosion.

An explosion at the Navy’s Port Chicago, Calif., ammunition depot during World War II killed 320 people.

Milner has raised safety concerns about several Northwest naval facilities, filing his first FOIA request in 1986 regarding the contents of a train coming into the Navy submarine base at Bangor.

The Navy later admitted that the train contained 112,000 pounds of explosives, Milner said.

“I realized a lot of people don’t know, and no one was asking, what was going on in their neighborhoods.”

Seattle lawyer David Mann, who said Monday he argued the case pro bono on Milner’s behalf, said the Supreme Court has 25 days to remand the case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“I’m feeling fantastic,” Mann said, adding that the government’s use of the personnel-rules exemption for withholding such documents a “High 2 Exemption.”

The reasoning was that “if their personnel used the documents, and release of which risked circumvention of the law, they didn’t have to release it,” Mann said.

“It was kind of a made up exemption. Our intent was to try to convince the court there was no such thing as a High 2 Exemption. It’s just been a catch-all exemption that agencies have used for over 30 years now.”

The government said that releasing the maps could allow someone to identify the precise location of the munitions that are stored on Indian Island.

Breyer, the lone dissenting justice, said the courts have consistently allowed broad use of the exemption for 30 years.

“I would let sleeping dogs lie,” Breyer said.

Kagan said the Navy might have legitimate interests in keeping the maps out of public circulation.

She said the government could stamp the maps “classified,” which would keep them from being disclosed under FOIA.

Or the Navy could perhaps rely on another FOIA provision that protects law enforcement information in some circumstances, she said.

But Mann contended that the maps were not drawn for law enforcement purposes.

“If they have a manual on how to conduct searches and seizures, they may not want that released,” Mann said.

“These maps show the design and safety impacts of explosions on the base. They are not law enforcement maps.”

The case ruled on Monday by the Supreme Court is Milner v. Department of the Navy, 09-1163.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.



Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 07. 2011 11:08PM
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