Coast Guard Finalizes Plan to Keep Anti-War Protesters at Bay During Seafair Fleet Week

The U.S. Coast Guard has now published - in the Federal Register - its final proposal for a permanent Seafair no-protest zone on Elliott Bay, saying it will clear the waters of any protesters before war ships arrive for the annual August Fleet Week events. The main purpose of the zone, extending 100 yards into the harbor from Pier 66, is designed to keep Seattle activists Glen Milner and his fellow boaters from threatening the Navy with their tiny, peaceful anti-war protest.

Though a public comment period remains open until Dec. 27, the new rule is expected to be finalized early next year. The rule states "no vessel operator may enter, transit, moor, or anchor within this safety zone, except for vessels authorized by the Captain of the Port or Designated Representative, thirty minutes prior to the beginning, during, and thirty minutes following the conclusion of the Parade of Ships."

That effectively removes the sea stage for Milner and an armada of rubber boats, kayaks and protest signs. Known as the Puget Sound Peace Fleet and lauched in 2000 after the Navy docked a Trident N-submarine on the waterfront, the group has since been subjected to spying by the Coast Guard and infiltration by police. (Milner himself was trailed by the FBI). Their peaceful demonstrations were so threatening that a Seafair official, in a captured e-mail, urged law enforcement to devise a plan to "to contain the protesters." Now they have it.

Milner - having just returned from a Navy documents battle in the U.S. Supreme Court - says he's uncertain if anything can be done now. "I encourage others to write again to the Coast Guard," he says (here's the comments link). "I think we should still be polite and ask for a public hearing and state that our first amendment rights are being violated."

Even if the squelch zone is officially approved, says Michelle Jensen, a Seattle attorney representing ACLU of Washington, "we are prepared to litigate its constitutionality."

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