U.S. Water News Online
PORTLAND, Maine -- The Maine attorney general's
investigation into privately negotiated water pollution agreements
between state officials and paper mills is adding uncertainty to an
embattled 10-year plan for cleaning up the Androscoggin River.
The attorney general is reviewing how some pieces of the plan were
negotiated privately by the Department of Environmental Protection,
in a way that ensured there would be no public paper trail.
The office also is reviewing how internal DEP e-mails are
preserved, because of a complaint about missing correspondence
related to other parts of the cleanup plan.
"We are aware of concerns about possible (Freedom of Access Act)
violations and we're looking into it," said Chuck Dow, spokesman for
the Attorney General's Office.
Dow said the review is in the preliminary stages and he would not
discuss it further.
Maine's Freedom of Access Act basically requires that regulatory
standards be subjected to a public review and that background records
be available to the public.
DEP Commissioner Dawn Gallagher said the agency did not intend to
avoid public scrutiny and did not consider the agreements to be
subject to full-scale public review.
"If we have done something that's procedurally wrong, I want to
know about it so we can correct it," Gallagher said.
The DEP's possible legal trouble came to light earlier this month,
after it could not provide preliminary drafts or meeting notes
regarding an agreement with Rumford Paper Co. The agreement set
clean-water standards for the next decade, beyond the term of a
separate five-year discharge permit.
DEP officials said the agency did not have the records because the
paper company wanted to keep all of the notes and the preliminary
drafts. Employees of the mill kept records on company computers, and
the mill hosted at least some of the meetings with the DEP, according
to state officials.
The side agreement committed the mill to future water quality
improvements demanded by Maine's Legislature. Recently, however, the
DEP dropped the agreement with Rumford Paper Co. and a less
controversial agreement with International Paper's Jay mill, citing
criticism about the lack of public review and records.
The rest of the plan also faces an uncertain future because of at
least 10 separate appeals.
Gallagher said the DEP plans to bring back the agreements and hold
public hearings on them after the appeals process is over.
Steve Hinchman, a lawyer with the Conservation Law Foundation,
said the Attorney General's Office needs to look into the plan
because the process can't be trusted.
"You can't drop the agreements and then some time later cure the
problem by having a public hearing," he said.
"Something was hidden . . . This blows our faith that the
officials that we put our public trust in are playing fairly."
The controversial cleanup plan has led the Attorney General's
Office to review how often the DEP and other state agencies
automatically preserve e-mail correspondence.
Florida Power and Light Co., which owns the Gulf Island Dam
between Lewiston and Auburn, has complained in its appeal of the plan
that the DEP allowed records to be destroyed. Some of the electronic
correspondence, the appeal says, could help explain why cleanup costs
were shifted from the paper mills onto the dam.
Gallagher said the DEP now creates backup copies of all e-mails
daily, rather than every week, because of Florida Power and Light's
She said the Attorney General's Office is looking into how e-mails
are preserved in the DEP and other state agencies as a result of the
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