Clark County Judge David Gregerson ruled Friday that port leaders in Vancouver, Washington didn’t violate state laws in 2013 when they negotiated a lease for an oil terminal.
The lease between Tesoro-Savage companies and the port remains in place. If built, the terminal project could ship 360,000 barrels of oil daily from the port to refineries along the West Coast.
“It’s not lost on the court that this is a very significant decision for the community in many, many regards,” Gregerson said when issuing his ruling from the bench.
The plaintiffs had alleged that the Port of Vancouver violated state public meeting laws when negotiating a lease for the oil terminal.
But Gregerson only ruled on five of the seven executive sessions challenged by the plaintiffs — Columbia Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center.
Under Washington law, a public body can meet in executive session to consider the minimum price that real estate can be offered for sale or lease.
The plaintiffs in the case argued for a narrow definition of what leads to a minimum price. But the Port of Vancouver said there are a wider variety of factors that need to be considered.
In the end, the judge sided with the port in the five executive sessions he ruled on.
“There is understood to be a necessary degrees of latitude on the part of the port to be able to discuss in executive session many things, which go into the price of a particular transaction,” Gregerson said.
Lawson Fite, a lawyer at the Portland law firm Markowitz Herbold, represented the Port of Vancouver in the case.
“What we argued and showed to the court is that the port is very careful about what goes into executive session when it’s considering a real estate deal like the one at the foundation of this dispute,” he said.
On Friday, Gregerson said he couldn’t rule on the other two sessions – April 9, 2013 and July 22, 2013 — because the facts were not clear. Those sessions could go to trial at a later date.
“The judge did not issue a ruling that resolves the case,” said Miles Johnson, an attorney with Columbia Riverkeeper. “There were still facts in dispute and those facts will be resolved at trial and we look forward to doing that.”
Since 2013, the port has faced criticism over its lease with Tesoro-Savage.
During an interview with OPB’s Think Out Loud, Port Commissioner Brian Wolfe defended the board’s use of executive sessions.
“We very much value the open public meetings act. We believe in transparency,” said Wolfe. “There are certain times when you can use the executive session if you have sensitive material, such as pricing, on a project or litigation, or personal matters. And we hold religiously to those concepts.”