Monday, May 23, 2016

BLM sends RJ handful of new details, lots of redacted pages in 2014 Bundy standoff

Federal employees talked about the “crazies” from across the United States who were coming to Bunkerville to support rancher Cliven Bundy. After corralling Bundy’s free-roaming “trespass” cattle from the Gold Butte range in 2014, agents were bracing for a violent confrontation. Some employees feared for their lives as suggestive threats surfaced and were circulated among Interior Department and law enforcement officials, according to emails obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal through a Freedom of Information Act request. After more than two years of gathering, redacting and delaying release of the documents, the Bureau of Land Management this week provided the newspaper with more than 400 pages of blacked-out emails and reports. The newspaper contends so much requested information is missing that the BLM response lacks the transparency required by the act. “ ‘Better late than never’ doesn’t cut it when it comes to the release of public records,” Review-Journal Editor Keith Moyer said. “But it’s especially intolerable when the government takes years to provide documents that can’t be read because they’re so heavily redacted. The Interior Department’s response in no way satisfies our FOIA request and leaves far too many questions about the 2014 Bunkerville standoff unanswered.”  Review-Journal attorney Maggie McLetchie said, “FOIA was designed to ensure openness in government. We are studying the BLM’s response and considering future options.” The documents show the BLM was not only worried about 2,000 self-styled militia descending on a corral near Bunkerville, where about 350 head of Bundy’s cattle were impounded along the Virgin River, but bureau and National Park Service public affairs staff also were preparing now-censored scripts to deal with the media if something tragic happened...more

The Las Vegas Review-Journal was also seeking info on the cost of the operation:

 The newspaper sought emails that were copied to BLM District Manager Tim Smith, BLM Director Neil Kornze and then-Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie. The FOIA request, which consolidated two previous requests received by the BLM on April 13, 2014, hours after the standoff ended, also sought documents about the cost of the failed $1 million effort to remove Bundy’s cattle from the range and sell them at auction. Those documents show the BLM reduced a fraction of the $966,000 contract for a helicopter-roundup outfit because the detail to impound and truck the Gold Butte range cattle north to Utah had been cut short “for safety reasons.” Not counting personnel costs or costs racked up by the FBI and other participating federal agencies, nearly $1 million was spent on the helicopter roundup and impoundment of Bundy’s cattle, including an invoice for more than $16,000 for command post trailers provided by Modular Space Corp. in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. The newspaper had sought credit card records, money transfer records and other charges that were paid through BLM and Interior Department accounts, but none were provided in the documents released by the BLM. An order for a helicopter company was placed Feb. 7, 2014, by the BLM’s Las Vegas Field Office. It called for a cost that “shall not exceed $966,000” based on a rate of $700 per head, or $770,000 for a possible 1,100 head; feed and care at $8 per head for $44,000; and transportation at $4.50 per mile.  After the armed standoff ended April 12, 2014, when BLM agents allowed Bundy’s supporters to release all the cattle from the corral, the contract was partially terminated “for convenience … due to unsafe site conditions and …” The end of that sentence was blacked out.  As a result, the order’s amount was reduced by about $126,767 to $839,233.

The remainder of this lengthy article has more info and a time line of the standoff.

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