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Press, public need access to meetings
Courier editorial
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The Georgia Environmental Protection Division had a closed-door meeting Wednesday in Savannah on the $30 million wastewater treatment facility proposed by the Liberty County Development Authority.
 The public wasn’t invited. The press was excluded. Only a group of “stakeholders” were allowed to attend the meeting.
 That’s just wrong. Indeed, when a government entity shuts out the press, it isn’t just keeping a few reporters from doing their jobs. It is excluding the public it is supposed to serve.
 In fairness, the EPD seems to do its best to protect the state’s natural resources given its limited manpower and funding. What’s more, the “stakeholders” who attended the meeting as a whole represent not only those who support the facility, but also environmentalists who have raised concerns about the project.
 An EPD representative assured the Bryan County News, the Courier’s sister newspaper, that no action would be taken Wednesday, since the purpose of the meeting was to share the results of an EPD study on how the wastewater plant will impact the coast. The issue became a matter of debate last year, when hundreds of Bryan and Liberty residents attended a number of public hearings or wrote the EPD to demand more information about the plant.
 The public’s desire to know more led the EPD to order an extended field study in early 2009. Plant critics and proponents met again last summer to discuss and review the report, which offered details on how releasing up to 3 million gallons of treated wastewater might affect the Laurel View River.
 However, now it seems those involved with the proposed project aren’t quite as open to local residents’ opinions and feedback. Throughout the process, the EPD has been seemingly honest and cooperative with the public and other agencies. Coordinators even requested a meeting in March 2009 with the Coastal Estuary Protection Association. The sudden change of heart is suprising and a bit disappointing.
 Further, thanks to closed-door meetings like Wednesday’s, there’s little reason to think that public trust in this or any process will magically grow by leaps and bounds anytime soon.
 Finally, it may be also worth noting that Wednesday’s meeting was closed so those attending would feel freer to discuss the proposed project, or so the Bryan County News was told.
 That may be so, but it is a dangerous attitude.  It implies that there are issues involved in this undertaking that cannot be discussed openly in front of the public or the press as its representative.
 The LCDA wastewater treatment plant is a matter of vital importance to the Georgia coast and the people who live here — people who are as much “stakeholders” in this process as any government official, private firm or environmental activist.
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