Energy | Ecotrope

Fight Over Coos Bay Coal Records Fee Continues

Ecotrope | Feb. 29, 2012 4:18 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:32 p.m.

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The International Port of Coos Bay is at odds with the Sierra Club over a request for records about local coal project proposals. Some of the records are protected by a confidentiality agreement, and neither the Port nor the Sierra Club wants to pay the cost of reviewing which of the 2,500 requested records are open to the public and which ones are not.

The International Port of Coos Bay is at odds with the Sierra Club over a request for records about local coal project proposals. Some of the records are protected by a confidentiality agreement, and neither the Port nor the Sierra Club wants to pay the cost of reviewing which of the 2,500 requested records are open to the public and which ones are not.

The Coos County District Attorney decided yesterday that the Sierra Club shouldn’t have to pay most of a $20,000 fee for accessing public records of coal export proposals at the International Port of Coos Bay.

“The Public Records Law as a whole embodies a strong policy in favor of the public’s right to inspect public records,” District Attorney Paul Frasier wrote in his decision letter. “lf an agency places a high cost on the public in order for the public to obtain access to the records, the rights of the public to have access will be hindered, chilled or even denied.”

The Port of Coos Bay plans to appeal the decision, which follows a long-running disagreement between the Port and the Sierra Club over whether the fees would be waived in the public interest.

The Port had told the Sierra Club it would cost $19,981 to fulfill a public records request for 2,500 documents related to coal export proposals for Coos Bay. The Sierra Club appealed the Port’s conclusion earlier this month after arguing the fee should be waived in the public interest. The Port signed a confidentiality agreement with an unnamed company backing the proposals, and an attorney would have to review the requested records to determine which ones were exempt from public disclosure.

Port spokeswoman Elise Hamner said it would not be in the public interest for the taxpayers to bear the cost of the attorney fees, which amount to around $16,666. But Coos County District Attorney Paul Frasier decided those costs shouldn’t be passed onto the Sierra Club.

“There’s no question we will appeal his decision,” said Hamner. “It’s a legal interpretation … and he didn’t determine whether it was in the public interest to grant the (fee waiver) request.”

Shane Levy of the Sierra Club said Frasier’s decision was “a huge victory for transparency.” The Sierra Club had accused the Port of charging an “exorbitant” fee for the coal records in order to keep the records secret.

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