Groups file complaints over Riverview-related recordsJune 21, 2019
By OLIVIA INGLE
The Dubois County Democratic Party and Hoosiers for Justice have filed five complaints with the Public Access Counselor’s Office in Indianapolis against two state legislators and three agencies, alleging they are in violation of Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act.
The two groups filed APRA requests in May with Gov. Eric Holcomb, Vice President Mike Pence, State Rep. Stephen Bartels, State Rep. Shane Lindauer, State Sen. Mark Messmer, State Sen. Erin Houchin, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the Lincolnland Economic Development Corporation and the City of Huntingburg seeking documents related to Riverview Energy’s plans to build a direct coal-hydrogenation plant in Dale, including documents regarding possible plans for industrial wastewater to be discharged into Huntingburg’s water reservoir.
“What is the secrecy about this? Why isn’t this a public process? Why is it that everyone’s in the dark about what the plans really are?” Dubois County Democratic Party Chair Mike Kendall asked about the proposed Riverview project.
Three of the groups’ complaints allege that Bartels and Lindauer have documents about Riverview but decline to produce them as they are “work product.” The Indiana Economic Development Corporation also declined because it is “negotiating” economic development with Riverview.
Two other complaints are against the Indiana Department of Environmental Management in Indianapolis and the Lincolnland Economic Development Corporation in Rockport because they failed to answer the APRA requests, which violates state law. Since filing the complaint, the Lincolnland Economic Development Corporation’s lawyer has since replied to the request, saying its “over-broad and troublesome,” according to Kendall.
Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner and Holcomb responded to the requests and are “searching for and identifying documents,” according to a Dubois County Democratic Party press release. Messmer and Houchin responded that they have no documents.
Pence also has not responded to the request.
The Dubois County Democratic Party hosted John Blair with environmental group Valley Watch in February to talk about the environmental ramifications associated with the $2.5 billion coal-to-diesel plant proposed for more than 500 acres in Dale. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management approved the project’s air permit last week.
At the Blair event, he mentioned that he had learned that Huntingburg had been approached about possibly taking Riverview’s water discharge.
In a March 11 story, The Herald asked Spinner about the issue and he responded, “They asked if water resources were available, would Huntingburg be interested? I said we’d be interested.”
He added: “As mayor, I responded by saying we would like to be a part of that conversation, because I believe it’s in the city’s best interest to be informed of all the potential effects such a project should have on our city if it is approved.”
Tom Utter, executive director of the Lincolnland Economic Development Corporation, told The Herald for that March 11 story that he is responsible for recruiting Riverview Energy to Spencer County. He’s also the one considering all possible options for the company’s water discharge. Besides Huntingburg, he wouldn’t divulge other possibilities at that time.
Riverview Energy did not respond to The Herald’s request for comment in this story, but Riverview President Greg Merle told 14 WFIE in Evansville that sending wastewater to Huntingburg is not the plan and the air permit doesn’t even allow it.
Kendall said his group’s demand for public records still stands, “because we want to see if that’s true.”
According to the Handbook on Indiana’s Public Access Laws, once the Public Access Counselor’s Office receives a complaint, a copy is forwarded to the agency that is the subject of the complaint and the counselor requests a response from the agency. The counselor has 30 days to issue an advisory opinion on the complaint.
The same handbook says complaints filed with the Public Access Counselor are “significant for both members of the public and representatives of public agencies.” But “the counselor’s opinions are not binding on public agencies,” so those filing a complaint “may wish to file a civil action.”
In addition to the APRA requests, the Dubois County Democratic Party is currently circulating a petition across the county opposing the discharge of Riverview’s industrial wastewater in Huntingburg and anywhere else.
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