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During winter storms back in February, the emergency spillway of the Oroville dam failed, forcing the evacuation of nearly 200,000 people. Engineers had known for decades that the rock-and-soil spillway was unreliable but did nothing. California Rep. John Garamendi said the spillway “worked fine until it had to be used.” Governor Jerry Brown said, “I’m glad we found out about it.” California taxpayers, particularly those who were evacuated deserve full disclosure of the dam’s history, maintenance and potential for failure. Trouble is, the governor and state water bosses are blocking access to records about the dam’s design specifications, federal inspection reports, technical documents, and other crucial information.
Department of Water Resources officials and local law enforcement claim it is a security matter, lest the information “fall into the wrong hands,” as Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea explained, meaning terrorists who could “create havoc or harm.” So as DWR boss Bill Croyle told reporters, “There is going to be a level of security over certain types of information.” Governor Brown has been uncritical of the gag order but California taxpayers should not be fooled. To all but the willfully blind, politicians and bureaucrats are simply hiding years of negligence, faulty oversight, and misguided spending.
In similar style, when whistleblowers called for a criminal investigation of safety lapses on the new span of the Bay Bridge, the politicians charged with oversight did nothing.
When informed of the bridge’s lingering safety risks, Brown famously replied “I mean, look, shit happens.” With the Oroville spillway failure, Brown told reporters “we live in a world of risk. Stuff happens and we respond.” The withholding of crucial information on some bogus security excuse is not the response those at risk had in mind. As Oroville resident Beth Bello told reporters, the terrorist issue is “completely irrelevant” to what happened. On the other hand, if the dam’s structural integrity is at risk, that is “more of a threat than a terrorist.”