COQUILLE — Coos County’s district attorney ruled that the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay was unreasonable in charging more than $16,000 in attorney’s fees to fulfill a public records request made by the Sierra Club.
“The Public Records Law as a whole embodies a strong policy in favor of the public’s right to inspect public records,” R. Paul Frasier wrote in his order. “If an agency places a high cost on the public to obtain access to the records, the rights of the public to have access will be hindered, chilled or even denied.”
Frasier’s order came after an appeal made to him by the Sierra Club to force the port to waive roughly $20,000 in fees for a public records request total roughly 2,500 pages of documents on proposed coal and liquefied natural gas export facilities.
The port promises to appeal Frasier’s decision.
Frasier did not order the port to waive all its administrative fees associated with the records request, which include cost of photocopies and time to retrieve the records totally more than $3,000.
“We don’t agree with the decision that administrative costs of copying and redacting and port research time is different than having the port pay for an attorney to review those documents, because that is required,” said Martin Callery, the port’s chief commercial officer. “We have not made any secrets as to what the project is about, and this is just a broad request, it will cost us $16,000 in legal fees and we think they should pay for it.”
Many, if not all, the documents the Sierra Club requested are protected by non-disclosure agreements, port spokeswoman Elise Hamner said. By law, when a request for those documents is made, the port must hire an attorney to review the documents to redact privileged information and determine if part of the document can be legally released.
The Sierra Club said it is happy with Frasier’s decision, calling it a “victory for transparency.”
In a news release, Laura Stevens, Sierra Club Organizing Representative, said:
“For too long, the Port of Coos Bay has withheld information regarding their plans to develop coal and liquefied natural gas export facilities at the Port, hosting backroom discussions with big out-of-state fossil fuel interests. “The people of Oregon have a right to know the truth, and today’s decision will help to inform us of the Port of Coos Bay’s intentions.”
The club said it will assess whether to pay the now $3,000 fee for the record’s request or appeal the decision further to ask the entire fee be removed.
Reporter Jessie Higgins can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 240, or firstname.lastname@example.org.