Opinion: Peter Newland
September 15, 2019— Day 887 of the resistance
Thank you for joining us today for an update on the Tarboo Ridge Coalition’s efforts to prevent a paramilitary training compound from being sited at Tarboo Lake. Jefferson County government thinks of Fort Discovery’s proposal as “a commercial shooting facility”. Our research indicates Fort Discovery Inc. has far more ominous plans and dreams.
I’ve been asked to spend 10 minutes briefing you on legal and county government matters.
As many of you know and Saturday’s PDN article confirmed, “Mr D’Amico has a history of
abusing the legal process to bully local governments whenever our community wants him to play by the same rules everyone else is expected to follow.” And I would add he employs the same tactics towards citizen groups and individuals who oppose his plans. That has been a hallmark of Mr D’Amico’s behavior for nearly 15 years. Hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars have been wasted. Like the County, TRC’s coffers have also been diminished defending spurious lawsuits and threats. In all our cases, when push came to shove Mr. D’Amico folded, afraid to sit for a deposition. We have a lot of questions he did and does not want to answer.
Tomorrow we will receive the GMHB decision on our challenge to Jefferson County’s Title 8
ordinance passed in December 2018, regulating “commercial shooting facilities”. We are hopeful the Board will side with TRC and instruct the County to issue a State Environmental Policy Act checklist and give the planning commission and the public a chance to weigh in on substantial changes to the zoning code that were erroneously couched in Title 8 as “health and safety” matters. If TRC does not prevail then any application will be processed under a wide open katy bar the door ordinance that allows shooting facilities to be built in 76% of unincorporated Jefferson County with no limits on size, number of firing positions, type of weapons or who can train. There are absolutely no bright line rules. If we do prevail, we will all have the chance to work for a sensible and fair ordinance that includes specific siting criteria and does not allow a popular public Jefferson County Lake to be usurped for corporate use and private profit. Please stay tuned. To date our expenses for legal defense are approaching $50.00 per day. This is day 887.
We have said from the beginning, TRC’s task will be long, arduous and expensive but we will not be deterred. How long you ask? If history is any guide, recall that Richard Butler set up his Aryan Nations compound at Hayden Lake, Idaho in the early 1970’s. In 2001 the compound was shuttered, bankrupted by litigation by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Far better to resist one being built than to try and shut one down.
Speaking of the Southern Poverty Law Center they recently mapped 1020 active Hate Groups all across America including ones that are active on the Olympic Peninsula. You may have seen the news report about the noose hanging in a local storefront. Slowly the dots are being connected.
Let talk a minute about Jefferson County government. They likely mean well but have not done well. They say they are intimidated by continued threats from Mr. D’Amico and his attorney, Greg Overstreet, including one spurious claim for $100,000,000. One Commissioner said they were being “blackmailed”. It has never been disclosed to the public what the threat, if any, is. Thus, we have no ability to judge the accuracy of county officials’ fear.
I can think of a lot of words beginning with “C” that apply here. Courageous is not one of them. Conflicted might be one, Complicit and Complacent definitely are. At the other end of the alphabet is “S” which stands for Secretive so let’s start there.
On December 18, 2017 the County declared a moratorium on gun ranges and announced an
intent for a citizen’s committee to study the matter and make recommendations to the County. On January 15, 2018, twenty- one days before officially establishing the moratorium, the County entered into a “mediation agreement” with Fort Discovery Inc. “over what the moratorium on new shooting ranges means for Joe D’Amico’s proposed facility near Tarboo Lake.” A $435 an hour mediator was hired and thus began what is now 608 days with no appearance before the mediator but continued communications between the parties. Those communications remain secret because the County says that they are in discussions in preparation for mediation. State Law allows preparatory discussions to be withheld from the public.
18 months of preparation for mediation is hardly credible, and the continued secrecy raises all kinds of questions as to how much influence Fort Discovery had in shaping the new ordinance which is much less restrictive than what existed prior to the moratorium. Mr. D’Amico, in addition to participating in the secret meetings with the County, also served on the Citizen’s Committee that advised the County.
Apparently only a public records lawsuit stands a chance to get answers to the question of
whether there was any undue influence, or if the County has been complicit.
TRC, Department of Ecology, The Army Corp of Engineers, Jefferson County Department of Community Development and the Leader have all documented that the encampment at Tarboo Lake is under construction. A gun range has been built, toilets are being flushed, group training has commenced, wetlands have been filled, and buildings red tagged in 2005 have been moved onto the site and are in use. No permits have been granted and the County will not publicly divulge the status of any applications for permits or what, if any enforcement actions are being pursued. Our request for a briefing was denied and labeled as “political”. When notified of the danger posed to the public by the makeshift gun range, the County ignored the public safety ramifications, took Mr. D’Amico’s word that it is a private range for his friends’ recreational shooting and that no money changes hands. That is the essence of “Complacency”
After nearly 15 years of Fort Discovery’s prevarication and routinely ignoring Jefferson County rules, the County continues to show great deference to the Corporation and continues a pattern of failing to enforce.
It raises the question; Is there is any rule that Fort Discovery Inc. will respect? Or in the
alternative, how flagrant does a violation need to be or how much danger to the public must be demonstrated before Jefferson County will choose to enforce its own ordinance?
To borrow a phrase, Let’s hope that past performance is no guarantee of future results!
Peter Newland, Board Member, Tarboo Ridge Coalition