PAROWAN – A Bureau of Land Management representative has asked the Iron County Commissioners via a letter to narrow the scope of a 2015 records request saying it will result in “thousands of pages of material.”
One commissioner, however, isn’t too concerned about the number of pages the agency will have to come up with.
“I’m not real sympathetic to their plight,” Commissioner Dale Brinkerhoff said during Monday’s commission meeting.
The Iron County Commission and others submitted their request to the BLM under the authority of the Freedom of Information Act, which entitles the public to access records and information from any federal agency, with some exceptions.
The 2015 request seeks, in part, any communications between representatives of the BLM and nongovernmental organizations, specifically environmental groups, from January 2013 to the present.
Commissioner Alma Adams said it would be illegal for the NGOs to meet or communicate with the BLM privately, including through emails.
“They should only receive written or verbal comments, comments in a public meeting if they have one,” Adams said. “They should never be meeting at any time, including through email, to discuss decisions with NGOs. Under the law they (the BLM) have to coordinate with us, but there is nothing under the law that says they have to coordinate with those groups.”
The commissioners’ biggest concern is that they have done just this, Adams added.
BLM Color Country District Manager Heather Whittman’s wrote a letter to the commission, which the commissioners discussed during their Monday meeting. In the letter, Whittman said they would be more likely to get what they are looking for in their request if it was more specific.
“If you provide additional specificity in your request, you are more likely to get the actual documents you are seeking versus thousands of pages which may not contain useful information,” Whittman stated.
The FOIA request has already produced an initial release of documents totaling more than 10,000 pages, Commissioner Alma Adams said.
Interim Commissioner Casey Anderson said he is concerned about how the county would deal with the documents, once received.
“Mike Edwards (deputy county attorney, present at the meeting) isn’t going to be able to review those by himself,” Anderson said. “Then we’re looking at additional personnel in order to review the documents. I’m just trying to look at execution.”
Since the FOIA document was part of a group request between several counties who all wanted the same information, Brinkerhoff said he didn’t want to make any decisions without first consulting the different commissioners. Anderson and Adams agreed.
Iron County Clerk Jon Whittaker told the group Monday that former Commissioner Dave Miller, who resigned in March, had asked him to submit the request in December 2015.
The request asks the BLM for all communications between employees in the BLM Color Country Office and various NGOs. Among the NGOs listed are the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Grand Canyon Trust and the Western Watershed Project.
The records request also asks for any communications during that same time period, January 2013 to the present, “involving, mentioning, or including” any county commissioners in Washington, Iron, Garfield, Beaver, San Juan, Sevier, Wayne, Piute or Kane counties.
Besides NGOs, the document requests all communications between Whittman and her husband Chris Zinda.
Zinda has been an opponent of the commissioners since last year when he publicly criticized them for spending taxpayer’s money on the Western Freedom Festival, an event he said had a political and religious agenda.
The commissioners specifically asked for communication concerning issues on the wild horse and burro program, RS2477 roads (roads open for public use regardless of ownership issues), sage grouse, energy product and the 2010 Western Freedom Festival.
The BLM Color Country District Office could not be reached for comment as of publication time.
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