Oak Creek Wind Energy Assessment Project

^Castle Peaks.

The Oak Creek Energy Systems (OCES) application to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Las Vegas Field Office, for a right of way grant to conduct meteorological studies on public lands, has been approved. The application involves the installation of metrological towers to collect atmospheric data for a period of 2 to 3 years, about 10 miles west of the town of Searchlight, Nevada. OCES will collect data on wind speed and direction, wind shear, temperature, and humidity.

The project is located in the Castle Mountains on the Clark County, Nevada-San Bernardino County, California boundary, bordering the Piute-Eldorado Valley Area of Critical Environmental Concern and several wilderness areas. We called BLM and they said it will also go into California. It will be adjacent to the Mojave National Preserve in the Castle Peaks mine area, in the keyhole next to the preserve.

Our BLM Awards for Information Access

We always assumed that because our tax dollars pay the salary of those who work for the Interior Department that our requests for publicly released information would be met with little or no resistance. After close to two weeks and 20 dollars later, we finally got the Las Vegas Bureau of Land Management office to send us a FONSI (Finding of no Significant Impact) Decision Record for the Oak Creek Wind Study Environmental Assessment. We called them to formally request this public document. After about 4 days we called back and received an e-mail from BLM employee Mark Chandler stating he needed approval from management to share this document with us. After two more days we called them again to ask. In another day we received a call telling us it would cost us $20.00 to have this document sent to us by e-mail. When we asked what the $20.00 was for, we were told it was for all of the work we made them do. Now, we did not ask them to make a photo copy, so we were not paying for the paper. After we paid them, they forwarded a previously written PDF file which consisted of 6 pages. We wondered how much time and work it took to forward a file stored on a computer to an e-mail. So we timed it. It took a little less than one second! So we did the math. If one second of this guy’s time is worth 20 dollars, how much are they paying him a week? One minute is worth 1,200 dollars. One hour is worth 72,000 dollars. One eight hour day is worth 576,000 dollars. A 40 hour work week would be worth 2,304,000 dollars!. I don’t think we have enough room to post his yearly salary!

About 48 hours after we made a call to the State Director’s office in Reno, Nevada we received a call from Greg Halseth, one of the agency’s 4 new Nevada Renewable Energy Project coordinators who assured us that our money had been refunded.

Why did they try to get away with this? When we first called Mr. Chandler requesting this information, he warned us that spreading rumors to the local people of Searchlight has caused problems for his office. He said that people were convinced that projects such as the Searchlight wind farm are a done deal, when in reality, the project is only in the beginning stages of environmental review. We told him that we want to put out the most accurate information possible, but that does require an open line of communication between the BLM and the citizens who pay their salary. Why is the BLM pointing fingers at us when they are refusing to follow their own open line policy of sharing public information? We can not but help think of Interior Secretary Salazar’s new policy to streamline the approval process of large renewable projects on public land. Are Mr. Halseth and Mr. Chandler attempting to with hold information to make this process run as smoothly as possible?

Fortunately, the Obama Administration has made Freedom of Information and accountability a priority in agencies like the BLM. In the new document:



SUBJECT: The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, reflects our nation's fundamental commitment to open government. This memorandum is meant to underscore that commitment and to ensure that it is realized in practice.

A Presumption of Openness:

As President Obama instructed in his January 21 FOIA Memorandum, "The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails." This presumption has two important implications.

First, an agency should not withhold information simply because it may do so legally. I strongly encourage agencies to make discretionary disclosures of information. An agency should not withhold records merely because it can demonstrate, as a technical matter, that the records fall within the scope of a FOIA exemption. 

It is important to know your rights as a citizen. If you are getting the run-around from a federal public employee, you do have resources to stand up for your rights. Remember, they are working on your dime. They don’t just work for big energy companies!

So far, in our communications with various BLM districts, the Las Vegas office gets the worst rating. Blue ribbons go to the Tonopah, Ely, and Needles offices. We applaud President Obama’s new push toward open government and transparency, allowing citizens fuller access to the decisions made in our name by our leaders. But when we encounter obstacles that go against the spirit of this new policy we have to wonder, how free is freedom of information?

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