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Roger Worthington: One man execises right to ask questions

September 01, 2000

Roger Worthington: One man execises right to ask questions

By LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer


As a longtime environmental activist in Washington County, Roger Worthington has accessed many public records, but he can't remember ever having to invoke the Freedom of Information Act.

"It's almost like you carry it along like a big hammer behind your back," said Worthington, president of Citizens for the Protection of Washington County. "It opens a lot of doors you wouldn't previously have had access to."

Worthington's group was founded two decades ago to fight a proposed power plant in Williamsport. They succeeded.

In the early 1990s, they fought a local cement company's plan to burn hazardous waste. The company backed off its request, choosing instead to burn scrap tires in its kiln.

Most recently, a splinter group called Friends of Beaver Creek opposed the proposed quarry expansion at H.B. Mellott Estates Inc. A final decision has not been made and rests with the courts.

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The group has recently talked about the Wal-Mart Supercenter near Funkstown and the impact it could have on small "mom-and-pop" businesses. Worthington said he's seen several small businesses in his neighborhood close since a Sheetz was built at the intersection of U.S. 40 and Md. 66.

"People tend to gravitate toward price and convenience. Sooner or later you end up with no choice. It's not a threat people can see," Worthington said.

During the group's various crusades, it has successfully obtained documents such as air and water quality permits and industry building plans, Worthington said.

Often, the hardest part was finding which government agency held the records.

State and local elected officials can sometimes help navigate the bureaucracy, he said.

The other drawback is knowing what to ask for. You can't ask for a public document if you don't know it exists.

"You just have to be able to be inquisitive and stick to your project. Any individual can do it," he said.

The worst thing that can happen is you'll be turned down.

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