Got this via email. Bob DeGroot is a good man on a good mission. — adam
By EARL KELLY, Staff Writer
A statewide environmental group is suing the Department of Natural Resources, alleging that the agency withholds documents it must by law provide to the public.
Filed by Robert DeGroot, president of Maryland Alliance for Greenway Improvement and Conservation (MAGIC website), the suit says the DNR failed to respond fully to three requests the organization has filed under the Public Information Act since October 2003. The nonprofit organization, which monitors public forests, wants to know how much logging has been permitted in state-owned forests in recent years.
The DNR has the information, Mr. DeGroot said, and it provided the data to Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s. In the case filed April 13, MAGIC is asking the Montgomery County Circuit Court to order the agency to provide the requested information.
“What we have been trying to do is find out what they are doing to the forests, and that is what is making them so mad. We are putting it on the Web,” Mr. DeGroot, a Rockville resident, said yesterday. Examples of where MAGIC didn’t receive the requested data came in October and November 2003, when the group asked DNR for information about logging activity in Savage River State Forest. With 54,000 acres in Garrett County, it’s the largest state forest.
“DNR still has not provided plaintiff with the Savage River Forest data provided to Senator Pinsky,” the suit states. Also, according to the lawsuit, MAGIC requested information concerning timber sales and forest management plans for four state forests - Savage River, Potomac-Garrett, Green Ridge and Pocomoke. The DNR responded by providing part of the sought-after information for two of the four forests. DNR spokesman Stephan Abel said he couldn’t comment because the matter is the subject of litigation.
MAGIC’s struggle to get information from the DNR goes back to when Mr. DeGroot, a retired IBM executive, founded the group six years ago. In 2000, he tried to get the biographies for the volunteer forest advisory board members within the DNR, but the agency denied the request on grounds that such information was a “personnel” matter. Mr. DeGroot said the agency receives, for its own use, about $3 million a year from selling timber from public land.
The agency has close ties to the timber industry, and the public has a right to know who is advising it on public policy, he said. In late 2003, the group filed an administrative claim against DNR for failing to provide boundary information for Green Ridge State Forest. Less than a week before the case was to be heard by an administrative law judge, the agency capitulated.
The General Assembly passed the Public Information Act in 1970, giving the public access to most government documents. Maryland expanded the law with the Open Meetings Act in 1977.
Private citizens have just as much right as a reporter, lawyer or anyone else to examine public documents, which range from campaign finance reports to nursing home inspections or how the county and state spend taxpayers’ money. “Documents” include reports, photos and e-mails. The Attorney General’s Office provides a quick summary of the law on its Web site, www.oag.state.md.us/opengov, as well as a more detailed PIA handbook that may be purchased for $10 or downloaded for free. The Web site includes a sample request letter.