May 15, 2020 – Black Hills Clean Water Alliance has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service for withholding information that was requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in December 2018. The information that was requested is a variety of documents and communications regarding gold-related activities in the Black Hills.
The Freedom of Information Act was passed in 1967 and requires that federal government agencies provide information to the public about government activities, including in situations like the one here in the Black Hills, where the Forest Service is set to consider four gold exploration permits. According to the Act, the Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture were supposed to expedite providing the information that Black Hills Clean Water Alliance requested – no later than twenty working days after the request was made. Black Hills Clean Water Alliance appealed the agencies’ failure to provide the documents in May 2019, and the Forest Service and Department of Agriculture have not responded to that appeal. The Forest Service is part of the Department of Agriculture.
“The Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture are hiding information from the public,” says Lilias Jarding of Black Hills Clean Water Alliance. “This is not only illegal, but it also makes us wonder what is really going on. Are the federal agencies that are supposed to protect the public, our public lands, and our water doing their job? They are considering allowing gold exploration just upstream of Pactola Reservoir, which is Rapid City’s water supply. We have the legal right to know what’s going on.”
The lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota to enforce the Freedom of Information Act, to order the Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service to find and provide all relevant records to Black Hills Clean Water Alliance, and to pay the Alliance’s attorneys’ fees. “The Freedom of Information Act is often the only way for citizens to track government activities. If the Forest Service denies access to its records, and then exacerbates the problem by refusing to even address a citizen’s appeal of that denial, federal court is unfortunately the only recourse,” states Jeff Parsons, attorney for Black Hills Clean Water Alliance.
A FOIA request was first filed in Dec. 2018
5/15/2019 – KOTA TV Reports on FOIA
5/7/2019 – Public’s Right to Know