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Re: E-M:/ Judge Rules DEQ Violated Freedom of Information Ac



BRAVO and Congratulations to the Friends of Crystal River!! This is EXCELLENT 
news -- The efforts to cut sunshine off from almost all agencies have been 
aggressively underway in the Engler Administration since virtually day one. This
significant win will hopefully reverberate through state government in a way 
that throws open the curtains and shutters this administration has tried to put 
on the public's right to know what its employees are up to!  Anne Woiwode



I know many people on this list have had an interest in the new wetlands rules D
ave Dempsey posted some time ago.  I also know many people on this list have bee
n frustrated with the difficulty of getting some kinds of documents from DEQ und
er the Freedom of Information Act.  I think this opinion is relevant to both.  I
f you would like a copy, contact me and I'd be happy to send you one.  
     
For Immediate Release - May 4, 2000
     
Contacts: Barbara Weber, Friends of the Crystal River (850) 231-4535
     
Chris Bzdok, Olson, Noonan & Bzdok, P.C., (231) 946-0044
     
Judge Orders DEQ to Turn Over File on New Wetlands Rules
     

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<DIV>I know many people on this list have had an interest in the new wetlands 
rules Dave Dempsey posted some time ago.&nbsp; I also know many people on this 
list have been frustrated with the difficulty of getting some kinds of documents 
from DEQ under the Freedom of Information Act.&nbsp; I think this opinion is 
relevant to both.&nbsp; If you would like a copy, contact me and I'd be happy to 
send you one.&nbsp; </DIV>
<DIV>&nbsp;</DIV>
<DIV>
<P><FONT face="CG Times">For Immediate Release - May 4, 2000</FONT></P>
<P><FONT face="CG Times">Contacts: Barbara Weber, Friends of the Crystal River 
(850) 231-4535</P>
<P>Chris Bzdok, Olson, Noonan &amp; Bzdok, P.C., (231) 946-0044</P><B>
<P align=center>Judge Orders DEQ to Turn Over File on New Wetlands Rules</P></B>
<P>This week a judge in Leelanau County ruled that the Michigan Department of 
Environmental Quality violated the Freedom of Information Act when it refused to 
share its file on new wetlands rules with an environmental group. Circuit Court 
Judge Philip Rodgers, Jr. ordered the DEQ to give the Friends of the Crystal 
River access to the wetlands documents, and ordered the DEQ to pay the Friends&#8217; 
attorney fees in bringing the lawsuit. Finally, in what is thought to be a rare 
occurrence, Judge Rodgers awarded punitive damages against the DEQ because he 
found that the DEQ had no valid reason for withholding the files.</P>
<P>In the Spring of 1999, the DEQ announced that it was planning to enact new 
regulations to be used in reviewing permit applications under the state wetlands 
law. The proposed regulations were issued in response to a review of Michigan&#8217;s 
wetlands program being conducted by the federal government. One of the main 
goals of the new regulations was to overrule a series of decisions by the DEQ&#8217;s 
own Administrative Law Judges, which were considered harmful to wetlands 
preservation. The rules were eventually enacted on April 19<SUP>th</SUP> of this 
year.</P>
<P>The Friends of the Crystal River, who are actively involved in wetlands 
issues and in favor of the new rules, sent the DEQ a Freedom of Information Act 
request, asking to review the DEQ&#8217;s files for background materials on the new 
rules. The DEQ denied the Friends&#8217; request, stating that it had a strong 
interest in keeping its deliberations about the new rules secret from the 
public. Finding themselves shut out, the Friends sued the DEQ under the Freedom 
of Information Act. On May 1, 2000, Judge Rodgers ruled in favor of the Friends 
on all counts of the lawsuit. He held that the DEQ did not have a right to keep 
its deliberations about the wetlands rules secret from the public. The judge 
then ruled that the most important right at stake in the case was the public&#8217;s 
right to participate in agency decisions about the environment:</P>
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<P>This Court further finds that the greater public interest is in the 
protection and preservation of the State&#8217;s wetlands and other water resources. 
Perhaps as importantly, the public has an interest in understanding how and why 
the DEQ performs its function. The historically prevalent public antipathy 
toward the Department of Natural Resources, now in part the DEQ, can only be 
overcome by open communication between the agency and the public to whom it is 
ultimately responsible. </P></DIR></DIR></DIR></DIR>
<P>Finding in the Friends&#8217; favor, Judge Rodgers ordered the DEQ to turn over the 
documents within a week. He then awarded attorney fees, estimated to be around 
$14,000 for the whole lawsuit, and punitive damages of $500, the maximum allowed 
under the Freedom of Information Act.</P>
<P>Friends of the Crystal River President Barbara Weber said the judge&#8217;s ruling 
is a victory for open government in environmental matters: "We always supported 
the new rules, and the many DEQ staff members who try to protect wetlands every 
day. All we wanted was to have the information we needed to participate in the 
rule-making process. We are very happy that Judge Rodgers gave us that 
right."</P>
<P>Ms. Weber also acknowledged the assistance of two other environmental groups 
in winning the case: the Michigan Environmental Council and the Tip of the Mitt 
Watershed Council. Dave Dempsey of MEC and Scott McEwen of Tip of the Mitt filed 
affidavits supporting the public&#8217;s need to have access to information on 
environmental decisions made by the DEQ. </P>
<P>The Friends of the Crystal River organized over 14 years ago in response to a 
proposal by the Homestead Resort to build a golf course and housing development 
in wetlands along the Crystal River in Glen Arbor, next to the Sleeping Bear 
Dunes National Lakeshore. Since that time, the Friends have waged a campaign of 
education, grassroots organizing, and litigation to block the golf course 
project. The case is now before the Michigan Supreme Court and the Army Corps of 
Engineers. The Army Corps is expected to make its decision in June of this year, 
and could prevent the project from going forward. The Friends are represented by 
the law firm of Olson, Noonan &amp; Bzdok, P.C., in Traverse City. 
</P></FONT></DIV>
<DIV>&nbsp;</DIV>
<DIV>Chris Bzdok<BR>Olson, Noonan &amp; Bzdok, P.C.<BR>P.O. Box 2358<BR>Traverse 
City, MI&nbsp; 49685<BR>(231) 946-0044<BR><A 
href="mailto:chris.bzdok@traverse.com">chris.bzdok@traverse.com</A> 
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