Sunshine Law Tested

1 decade 8 months 4 weeks ago Wednesday, March 14 2007 Mar 14, 2007 Wednesday, March 14, 2007 10:32:44 AM CDT March 14, 2007 in News
"The Community Emergency Response Plan is a public document," Olsen said.

"There's nothing to hide in that plan. It's the community's plan," said Terry Cassil, Columbia F.D. Division Chief.

The plan didn't list chemicals in the county but pointed us to the Fire District Headquarters. There you can see detailed reports of the amount and type of chemicals.

In Cole County, our unannounced visit turned up nothing. The official wasn't in the office. The county's emergency coordinator took two weeks to return two phone calls, and finally handed over the plan, not updated since 2000. We asked why the document was so old, she said her secretary made a mistake. She then emailed KOMU the county's most updated plan from 2004.

"We don't get wrapped up about the date on the corner of the page, what we get wrapped up with is are you knowledgeable, have you had training, are you familiar with the other players," said Susan Green, Cole County Emergency Operations Director.

One of those players is Cole County Hazmat Chief Mike Rackers.

"We are in an age of technology ... The updates on right here my hip. It's all the phone numbers ... it's all the contact information," Rackers said, as he displays his Blackberry organizer.

And as for chemicals in the community, "we have 3 chemists," Rackers said.

Just across the river from Cole County, Callaway County officials say they'll let you know what types of chemicals are stored in the community, but said a truck carrying hazardous materials could cross that bridge and spill. They said plans on how the county would deal with such a spill are secret.

"If I have to evacuate this county, I have to make certain decisions," said Lee Fritz, Callaway County Commissioner.

Fritz said terrorists could get a hold of parts of the plan that relate to the nuclear power plant and exploit that plan.

"Our plan itself ... It's clearly protected under federal and state law," Fritz said.

KOMU received that response when we requested the document in person and with two Sunshine Law letters.

"That information given out could create a situation where someone would know how we're responding, and how to influence or hurt that response," said John Shearman, Callaway County Emergency Operations Director.

The State Emergency Management Agency agreed with Callaway County, saying "disclosure of this plan could compromise the security of the plant." It backed up that claim with a section of Missouri's Sunshine Law that deals with terrorism.

So we asked if Callaway County could remove the parts that deal with terrorism at the plant, to see how the county would respond to other types of hazardous emergencies.

"The plan itself creates issues of dealing with terrorism, and it would be literally impossible for me to remove one section that section of it, without it totally influencing the entire plan," Shearman said.

KOMU took that claim to Charles Davis, Director of the Freedom of Information Center, who helped craft the section in Missouri's Sunshine Law that deals with terrorism.

"If there is something in here that truly is related to the nuclear plant, and thus captured by our homeland security exemption, they shouldn't mark out the other 98 percent that's not about that," Davis said.

"Certain security measures need to be kept secret," Fritz said.

The U.S. Congress said this document should be open under the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act of 1986.

KOMU partnered with journalists all across the country for this story as a part of Sunshine Week to bring attention to our country's open government laws.

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