The critics say a public hearing, which was not held, might have answered questions about what impact the security zone could have on future port business.
The Coast Guard publicized creation of the permanent zone in the Federal Register, the official daily publication of proposed rules, notices of federal agencies and executive orders.
The zone went into effect Dec. 10, according to the Register.
"Somebody asked me about it this month, and I found out it was already in effect," Councilman TJ Johnson said. "I hadn't heard anything about it."
Military shipments quickly became controversial when they returned to the port last year for the first time in 17 years. The shipments for the Iraq War and humanitarian aid have boosted port revenue but sparked protests and two arrests for trespassing during an anti-war demonstration.
The Coast Guard has provided West Bay security for the six military shipments since last year. Each time, the Coast Guard marked off temporary security zones.
The new permanent zone makes sense for two reasons, Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Commander Michael Dreier said. It simplifies the military's security needs for boaters who sail Budd Inlet and removes the Coast Guard's need to re- establish security should more military ships visit the port.
"We established a permanent security zone to ease our administrative burden," Dreier said. "And this way, Joe Boater doesn't have to figure out if it's permanent."
Boaters are free to sail through the zone when a military shipment is not visiting, but they must follow an armed Coast Guard escort around the zone if a military ship is loading or unloading.
The port also has posted notices of the security zone at entrances to Swantown Marina.
A few marina customers last week said the matter doesn't bother them.
"It's such a big issue that nobody talks about it," said Tom Rounds, who owns and lives on a 25-foot sailboat at the marina. "When a Navy ship is there, nobody goes over there."
Boat owner Larry Tramblay said boaters generally don't go into West Bay because there is no place to buy fuel there. Further, Tramblay said he understands the need for a secure military shipping zone.
"Business is business," he said. "The added security is a good thing."
When the Coast Guard published its plans in the Register, it allowed for public comment. But none was received, Dreier said. Absent public reaction, the new zone went into effect last month.
The issue's low profile bothers Johnson and some anti-war activists.
"I have three questions," said Alice Zillah, a member of the Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace. "Why didn't anybody talk about this? You could have actually had a public hearing."
Zillah also wants to know more about how the Coast Guard's needs affect pleasure boaters and whether the new zone makes protesters subject to more serious federal penalties if they get arrested in demonstrations.
The Register cites heightened national security needs since the Sept. 11 attacks and the unpredictable shipping needs of the Army as reasons for the permanent security zone.
"It just makes a temporary zone permanent," said Jim Amador, the port's mariner terminal director. "Nothing has changed."
Commissioners said they didn't do more to publicize the issue because they don't have jurisdiction over Budd Inlet waters.
"Our jurisdiction ends at the edge of the dock," Commissioner Bob Van Schoorl said. "We don't have any say over what the Coast Guard does with the waters."
The security zone poses no inconvenience to pleasure boaters, Commissioner Paul Telford said.
"It's not restricting boat traffic, you can go around it," he said.
Regardless, Councilman Johnson has asked City Manager Steve Hall to report back to the full council on how the Coast Guard established the zone.
The city fire and police departments did not know about it, Hall said.
"We don't normally read the Federal Register," Hall said. "We will do some more digging."
Johnson criticized the process the Coast Guard followed to address its needs at the port.
"I'd like to see somebody address what this means for future shipments," he said. "At the very least, we ought to be communicating it to local elected officials."
Johnson called for more open communication between the port, city and Coast Guard.
"The public's business is not well served by decisions made outside of public view," he said. "And yet, the public lives with these decisions."
Army and Coast Guard officials do not predict if or when there will be future visits to the port by transport ships.
"We don't know what's on the horizon," Dreier said.