Wednesday, 16 May 2012

PR Springs Tar Sands Project Permit Appeal Day 1

Posted by ViewFinder on 5/16/2012

At 9:00 am I entered the Public Space containing a hearing- knowing that this Evidentiary hearing on Living Rivers appeal of the groundwater discharge permit to U.S. Oil Sands for a Tar Sands mine at PR Springs in the Book Cliffs of Utah, was actually a CLOSED hearing.  

I approached the receptionist and requested entry to the hearing and was immediately declined when my name was not showing on the "list".  After requesting to speak with a Manager I was required to wait... eventually a lovely woman came out of a secure area of the first floor and gave me the same explanation that this was not a "public hearing" and if my name was not on the list as a participant in the hearing there would be no entry permitted.  We were however provided a second room in which we could convene and watch the hearing via a live video feed projected onto two large screens at the front of the room.  I requested to speak with the person responsible for assigning the room for the hearing and was again required to wait until Connie, a Paralegal for the State of Utah Division of Water Quality, arrived.  She explained that she did not assign the room but that she would express to the "powers that be" our frustration in being sequestered from the actual hearing.  Connie then requested an additional member of the State of Utah staff to discuss with me the decision to close off the hearing from the public.  I explained our main concern to Brad Johnson- being the inability to witness for ourselves the reactions of other members of the hearing.  Brad assured me that the video would give us access to all the information we needed.  I did request that he discuss with the cameraman the ability to view more of the hearing than just the witness stand.  Brad kindly obliged and returned about 15 minutes later explaining that the cameraman had very little ability to move the camera around but said he would do his best to give us an accurate view of the hearing.
 Approximately 9:45 I was met in the lobby by others wishing to express their dissatisfaction with the CLOSED hearing on public lands.  Approximately one minute later several security guards entered the building and conversed with one of the members of management, whom I had previously spoken with during my attempt to gain entry into the hearing room, the possible disruptions they anticipated.  Two of the security guards approached me directly stating we were not able to have a protest of any sort and that we needed to provide a permit if we gathered in a group of more than 4 people... WHAT!?  We were in a "public space" wishing to attend a "public hearing" and we are being told that we are not able to exercise our first amendment right if there are more than four people.  This is ridiculous!  I asked permission to pass out literature on Tar Sands and was told that would not be tolerated and we would be asked to leave if not by security than by members of our local police department.  With a little questioning and insistence that they had no grounds to do such a thing they gave in and allowed the "Citizen Complaint" to be placed on a table outside the "Press" (time-out) room with some of the literature available from the State of Utah.
The clock struck 10:00 am and the hearing began, hickory dickory dock.

The audio was tested before they started, however it was extremely difficult to hear them during opening remarks.  I was quite disturbed about this- a perfect example of why this hearing should not have been closed off, and public entry should have been allowed.

 Throughout the hearing citizens of the great state of Utah signed their "Citizen's Complaint" and submitted to the complaint box located at the front of the timeout room.  The complaint form is addressed to Gary Herbert- Governor Utah, Amanda Smith- Executive Director DEQ, Sandra Allen- AAG / ALJ.  This document states:  "The public policy of the State of Utah has long and rightfully demanded openness and transparency in government operations as demonstrated by the Article 11 of the Utah Constitution, the Open & Public Meetings Act, the Utah Public and Private Writings Act, the Government Records Access and Management Act, and repeated Utah Supreme Court decisions asserting and upholding “our traditional bias for open court proceedings.” (see 926 P.2d 853; 766 P.2d 1069; 689 P.2d 1357; 685 P.2d 515; 614
P.2d 515)

Your closure of the hearing violates the US Constitution’s requirement for equal application of the law and the prohibition against retaliation for (anticipated) exercise of first amendment rights. Your closure also violates the Utah Constitutional requirement that our courts shall remain open.
Your closure stands on its head more than 55 years of consistent Utah Supreme Court decisions that
demand ‘fair play’ in hearings before administrative bodies including, “a reasonable time a place for
hearing where interested parties may attend with reasonable effort.” See Utah Supreme Court (4 Utah 2d 98)(1955)

Keeping the public out of the hearing room also violates the Utah Administrative Procedures Act
which provides as a default the public is welcome at all formal adjudicative proceedings. (63G-4-206.)

Further, you must know that the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act applies to the DEQ and this
hearing is also subject to that Act. It is not even a close call. Under the Open & Public Meeting Act
an intentional violation is a class B misdemeanor and the citizens, including me, will have at least
ninety (90) days to seek to undue this offending hearing and correct your error in court.
It is illegal and a disservice to Utah to close off access to a public hearing of this stature and nature.  I demand an open hearing."

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