For Immediate Release, February 3, 2010
Contact: Taylor McKinnon, (928) 310-6713 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Prescott Officials Attempt to Delay Ruling on Water Pipeline Records
PRESCOTT, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity today submitted a motion opposing an attempt by the city of Prescott to impose a three-week delay on the determination of a lawsuit over the city’s refusal to disclose records about the proposed Big Chino Ranch pipeline threatening to dewater northern Arizona’s Verde River. The Center sued Prescott in April 2009 after the city illegally withheld public records about the pipeline plans for 11 months – which now, after 20 months, it continues to do.
“The Verde River is one of Arizona’s treasures – imperiled species, communities, and small farms all depend on it for their survival,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center. “Prescott is illegally hiding pumping plans that would destroy it.”
The city claims more time is needed to evaluate how other pending lawsuits might affect this case. But in a similar public-records lawsuit between the city and the Salt River Project, Arizona Superior Court Judge David Mackey recently inspected documents relating to the pipeline and ordered the city to produce them. The same records ordered produced by Judge Mackey are responsive to, and satisfy requests in, the Center’s lawsuit. Despite this, Prescott still refuses the Center records.
“We’re witnessing a bureaucratic temper tantrum,” said McKinnon. “City officials seem to believe that obstinance and delay can overcome Arizona’s public-information law.”
According to Howard Shanker, attorney for the Center in the case: “The city of Prescott has a legal and ethical obligation to make public records available for inspection. Rather than comply with this obligation, it exhausts every available avenue to delay and/or deny public access to records – spending taxpayers’ money on litigation and settlements. The city of Prescott should simply operate in the sunshine – as principles of good government dictate – and comply with the public-records law.”
The 45-mile pipeline would suck 13 million gallons of water per day from the Big Chino aquifer to fuel rampant development in Yavapai County. According to U.S. Geological Survey reports, the upper Verde River relies on springs originating from the Big Chino aquifer for at least 80 percent of its base flow. Without baseflow, a stream is a dry wash, flowing only during storm runoff.
Hydrologists predict that pumping water from the aquifer will eventually result in a near-equal reduction of flow in the Verde River, hurting river recreation, tourism, agriculture, and communities as well as aquatic and riparian ecosystems that form habitat for imperiled species like the desert nesting bald eagle, southwestern willow flycatcher, western yellow-billed cuckoo, and declining native fishes.
“Prescott’s plans would effectively destroy the upper Verde River,” said McKinnon. “An entire river ecosystem is at stake.”
In an effort to gather more details about the pipeline and its impacts, the Center made records requests to the city beginning May 8, 2008. Arizona law requires the city to “promptly furnish” such records. The Center sued Prescott in April 2009 for refusing to furnish the records. Had Prescott even taken three weeks – as it seeks now in continuance – to respond the Center’s original 2008 request it would have violated the law.
Arizona’s public-records laws requires that the “custodian of such records shall promptly furnish” those records. In cases such as this one, where the documents were in the city’s possession and could have been available for immediate inspection, Arizona courts have ruled that the documents must be made available for inspection “at once.”