The Wasatch County School District, under a Utah Public Records ruling, has until Thursday to release a wetlands draft study document to the Wasatch Taxpayers Association. But the school district says it intends to appeal the order.
The requested documents dispute concerns a 63-acre parcel of land purchased in 2019 by the school district to build a future high school. The school district paid $6 million for the land in what is known as the North Fields near State Road 113 and South Field Road. The Wasatch Taxpayers Association co-founder Tracy Taylor has submitted several formal government records requests, known as GRAMA, earlier this year to learn more about the land purchase. She received all the documents but one – that was done by the engineering firm, Bio West which had started a wetlands delineation study in May before it ended its contract with the district.
“So, then we GRAMA requested that specifically and they did not give us the actual field survey, but they did give us the invoice for $5,700.00 that the taxpayers did pay for.”
The school district, she says, claims they don’t have to provide the study because it’s a draft. Taylor appealed that claim to the Wasatch School District Superintendent Paul Sweat.
“The superintendent of schools denied it again even though we gave evidence that it was not a draft at all. In fact, after we were denied we also GRAMA requested the contract with Bio West and the school district. And it was a four-part contract, so the first part of that contract was this wetlands delineation study. So, it was in the contract and we also paid for it.”
Taylor says taxpayers have a right to know what the engineering company found on the property because taxpayers will be financially responsible if there are wetlands on the property on which the district wants to build a new high school.
“How much land possibly may need to be mitigated for wetlands if they develop this property? It's a very expensive undertaking because they would have to find double the amount of property somewhere else, that isn't wetlands, and create a wetland on that property. And it would have to be maintained annually and in perpetuity. So, that is an ongoing expense that the taxpayers have a right to know what that could possibly be.”
She says the school district claims the report isn’t relevant because it is incomplete. Taylor doesn’t know what is in the report, but taxpayers paid for it and a have a right to see it.
“The point is, is that the state records committee said it needed to be released. So, we just want the public and the citizens to get to look at the property and to see if it is relevant or not. Not up to us to decide.”
The State Records Committee has ordered the school district to provide the Bio West document. Utah code requires the school district to produce the record, to file a notice of compliance or a notice of their intent to appeal. The district says it intends to appeal in district court – or it risks a $500 penalty for every day the document isn’t produced.
“We feel that the time is now to release this document. There is no need to take it to the District Court and spend more money on an attorney to fight us.”
Most members of the State Records Committee agreed. Committee member David Fleming said he would want to know what he paid for.
“You know there was taxpayer money spent. Maybe the results came out to be something that perhaps the people were doing the study didn’t like to see, but nonetheless, it was paid for with taxpayer money. And I’m also not completely convinced it was just a draft. If I was a taxpayer in Wasatch County, I’d like to know what I paid for.”
But committee member Ken Williams voted against the release, saying he feels for the taxpayers, but the record is protected and shouldn’t be released.
“I feel for the taxpayer that paid for this report – they’ve paid some amount for this abandoned report to be created. I’m sympathetic to that. But I think our job is ensure that the records have been classified correctly and I think they have.”
Wasatch School District officials declined an on- air interview with KPCW but emailed a statement. It said, the school district is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to obtain a permit for future uses of the land, a long and complicated process. The study that Tracy Taylor seeks to obtain from the school district was drafted early in the process and is only one part of a four-part requirement. Currently, the statement continued, the district is working with the Corps, which has conducted its own onsite inspections and analysis. The Corps is now in the final stages of its analysis and will soon be releasing its findings - in the next 30-60 days. Once the Corps announces its final determination, the District will release all documents related to this process.