FIOA in court

FIOA in court

When ABC 10 needs a mug shot or press release, the station is only able to do so with a FOIA request.

FOIA stands for the Freedom of Information Act, a law that gives citizens the right to access information held by the federal and state government.

The Sugar Law Center for Social and Economic Justice went to Marquette County Circuit Court to uphold that statute on behalf of the concerned citizens of Big Bay.

In December of 2007, Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality issued a mining permit to Rio Tinto, prohibiting them from using or building an electrical infrastructure, only allowing for generator power.

One month later, a nonprofit organization called the Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association was formed by members of the Department of Environmental Quality, the Department of Natural Resources, Bitterroot Resources, and Rio Tinto to manage facilities housing mining core samples.

“Well, that’s why we’re here in font of the courthouse today, because state employees created it, organized it, and joined it, and ran it with mining executives,” Former Federal Oil Regulator Jeffery Loman said.  “The organization itself is saying you’re not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.”

But why would anyone seek out a FOIA request from a coreshed non–profit organization?

Fast forward to November of 2008, where the DEQ sends a letter to Rio Tinto allowing them to build an electrical infrastructure solely for their core shed and not the mine itself. The DEQ ruled that the core shed was not part of the mining process, and in turn, the permit was not subject to public procedure under Part 632 of Mining Law.

“The fact was, that was a total of almost nine megawatts of power going up that way, and Big Bay, Powell Township, all along (County Road) 550, its always used, since the electricity’s been there no more than three megawatts of power,” Big Bay resident Gene Champagne said.   “So, all that extra power was obviously going to power a core shed, according to them (Rio Tinto), when that’s basically a big garage and they could have run electric lines from Big Bay Sportsman’s Club out that way, if that was their true intent.”

“We had assurances from the DEQ, that once it started down (County Road) 510 they would have to file amendment to the permit, that was never done until the wires poked out of the ground outside the fence, and then ‘Oh my God there’s electricity there, why don’t we put electricity to the mine?’.  But as soon as the electricity was hooked up to the mine, or they got the permit for the mine, all of a sudden that coreshed was decommissioned.”

“People at the time questioned why they didn’t have to go through the permitting process, and that’s the biggest question that I have, is if we’re (Michigan) is supposed to have the toughest mining laws in the country, they’re worthless, unless the process is followed.  And in this case, the process was not followed.”

Which brings us back to the FOIA request and the current court case.

“I have a great interest in this case, mostly because over the course of the last twelve years, we’ve watched the DEQ and mining companies work…almost a little too close together on some issues,” Champagne said.

Issues like forming a coreshed non–profit organization comprised of former regulatory officials and mining executives alike, who work hand in hand with the Department of Environmental Quality who is supposed to be analyzing the toxicity of the core samples stored in warehouses that belong to the Northern Michigan Geologic Repository Association.

“And they’re saying we’re not a public body.  Well, you have a choice here.  You’re either a public body and we know that you are, because state officials created it,” Loman said.   “It fullfills a state mandate to maintain course.  The other option is, you’re serving private interest, and you violated the Internal Revenue Service’s provisions that say you cannot be a non-profit corporation and solely serve private interest.  But we’re going to let Judge Solka figure that out today (Thursday).”

The case continues August 9th.

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