PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County commissioners expressed concern Monday over state legislation they said would allow commanders of military bases to veto county and city land-use decisions.
“The three of us received information on our email this morning about the bills and the fact that it would give veto power for our land use to the military, which I think is an overreach,” said Jefferson County Commissioner Kathleen Kler.
The bills — House Bill 2341 and its companion, Senate Bill 6456 — apply to “lands where development may interfere with the installation’s ability to carry out its current or future mission requirements.”
The House bill’s primary sponsor is Rep. Kristine Reeves, D-Federal Way. State Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, is sponsoring the Senate bill.
Calls to state Reps. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, and Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, were not immediately returned Monday.
Commissioner Kate Dean said she was “really concerned” about the bills and said she was surprised when she brought the issue up at a Washington State Association of Counties meeting last week that few commissioners shared her concern.
The bills would prohibit development in the vicinity of a military installation that is incompatible with the installation’s ability to carry out its mission requirements.
They would require county and city governments to notify commanders of military installations within or adjacent to its borders of proposals to amend a comprehensive plan or amend or adopt development regulations.
If the commander does not submit a response within 60 days, then the county or city government could move forward with its plans.
“We are in a unique situation where we have a lot of impacts from the military without a tax base,” Dean said. “Island County and Kitsap County, they get millions of dollars from their tax base that I think changes their decision-making a little bit.”
She said she doesn’t downplay the importance of national security, but said Jefferson County could “have a lot of impacts and give up land use control” while not seeing the same benefits as surrounding counties.
The bills would require the Department of Commerce to establish a competitive process to solicit proposals for and prioritize projects whose primary goal is to increase the compatibility of surrounding land uses with military bases within Washington.
The Department of Commerce would have up to $25 million for that effort.
Dean said that mitigation package will be attractive to other counties.
“I don’t think Jefferson County, because we don’t have a base in our county, is as likely to compete for those funds,” she said.
While Naval Magazine Indian Island is located in Jefferson County, only about 160 people, including 18 military personnel, work on the island.
Commissioner David Sullivan, also concerned about the bills, said he has been involved with a land-use study group that included Naval Magazine Indian Island.
“I’ve been appreciative of how well I feel the people at Indian Island have listened to us,” he said. “The commanders do change there every two years, so it’s something where you really want people familiar with the community to be involved in these decisions.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].