FOIA Required to Gain Release of DEQ Water Plan Analysis?

By. Neil Williamson, President

The front page banner headline in this morning (7/25) Daily Progress reads “DEQ: Norris plan fails to meet needs” .  The well written article by Brian Wheeler outlines the analysis of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) regarding a proposal to dredge the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir and increase the height of the existing Ragged Mountain Dam.  The “Norris Plan” a it as been dubbed was first formally presented to DEQ a year ago this week by Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris and then Chairman of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors David Slutzky.

Relatively late in the article it is mentioned:

The draft results were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Charlottesville Tomorrow. DEQ officials said in an interview that Norris had not contacted them in the past year, but that they were actively preparing to submit the study to local officials and could do so as early as this week.

According to George Washington University’s National Security Archive:

The U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law ensuring public access to U.S. government records. FOIA carries a presumption of disclosure; the burden is on the government – not the public – to substantiate why information may not be released. Upon written request, agencies of the United States government are required to disclose those records, unless they can be lawfully withheld from disclosure under one of nine specific exemptions in the FOIA. This right of access is ultimately enforceable in federal court.

Charlottesville Tomorrow deserves credit for filing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.  The Free Enterprise Forum questions the failure of the DEQ to release this information previously.  Refusing to believe in coincidences, we find it highly suspect that the DEQ just happened to be “actively preparing to submit the study to local officials”.

Regarding the delayed response this morning’s Daily Progress article quotes Scott Kudlas, a DEQ director responsible for surface and groundwater planning:

“Frankly, one of the primary reasons there was a delay to providing this information to the localities was that we were really hoping that they would work this out and we wouldn’t have to comment on it,” Kudlas said.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes this approach is indicative of the political nature of regulatory agencies.  The Mayor and The Chairman of the Board of Supervisors ask DEQ a specific question and a year later the answer is revealed ONLY thanks to a FOIA request.  Regulatory agencies should see those that are regulated as customers and answer their questions promptly and professionally regardless of how the political chips may fall.

Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality is set up to protect the environment not political harmony between localities.  This report should have been released when it was completed not delayed to let the localities “work this out”.

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

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