By Michael Howell
The County Commissioners last week rejected a Freedom of Information Act request from Larry Campbell, a landowner along Rye Creek Road, for a mailing list of the individuals who enrolled in the County’s Dust Abatement Program last year. Campbell, who has a home right next to the dirt road, was hoping to enlist other people in his protest against the suspension of the program this year which allows private landowners to pay for the magnesium chloride which the county would then apply to suppress dust along the county road in front of their property.
When Campbell filed his complaint at the County Road and Bridge Department, he also filed an FOIA request for the mailing list, but Road and Bridge Department operations manager Dusty McKern refused the request on the grounds that he could not give out a mailing list that could be used for commercial purposes. Campbell appealed that decision to the County Commissioners but Deputy County Attorney Howard Recht backed up the supervisor’s decision.
Campbell told the commissioners that dust was not that bad when he bought his place along Rye Creek Road but that over the years, with logging, mining and house building going on, the dust had increased dramatically and definitely posed a health hazard at his place. He said on some days he has to leave because the dust is so bad.
Campbell said that the state had identified air pollution as bumping the limits of the clean air standards in the state and put Ravalli County on notice to do something about it or face some consequences. Road dust was identified as one of the single greatest contributors to particulate pollution and the state adopted the administrative rule stating that “No person shall cause or otherwise authorize the use of any street, road or parking lot without taking reasonable precautions to control emissions of airborne particulate matter.”
According to Campbell, this was the origin of the County’s Dust Abatement Program and that to discontinue it was a violation of the law. In fact, he argued, the program is just a way to get private individuals to pay for what the county is required to do by state law. He said it was a serious public health issue and that it was tied to one of the county’s basic services that taxpayers support.
Commission Chair Greg Chilcott said that the program was suspended this year due to financial constraints but that the commission had every intention of renewing the program next year if they can afford it. He told Campbell that the county would not be handing over any mailing list as it was illegal for them to disseminate one. He asked Campbell what he would be using the list for.
Campbell said that his intention is to organize people who are affected by the illegal dust abatement program so that they could seek collective relief.
Chilcott said getting a mailing list from the county was not an option according to their attorney and wondered if Campbell could simply seek to inspect each letter that the county sent out and then compose his own mailing list.
Campbell said as he left the meeting that he would be willing to try whatever he could do to get the needed information. If it meant getting a look at every letter one at a time he would do that.