COOS BAY -- Monday's court ruling against the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay was the latest development in a two-year battle over fees for releasing public records.
The Oregon chapter of the Sierra Club filed a public records request in 2011 related to coal export plans. The port responded that it would charge the group more than $19,000 to fulfill the request.
In ruling in favor of the Sierra Club Monday, Coos County Circuit Court Judge Paula Bechtold said the port violated public records law by failing to waive the fees.
Cesia Kearns, campaign representative for the club's Beyond Coal initiative, admitted the request was expansive.
'Broadly, it was about what kind of plans there were for coal exports from Coos Bay."
Elise Hamner, communications manager for the port, said the port's reason for the fees was the size of the task relative to the port's resources.
'We have a pretty decent computer system," Hamner said. 'But we're a small agency. There's a lot of records and a lot of redundancy."
In all, about 2,500 pages of documentation fell under the request. Hamner said most of the fee was for lawyer time to redact the documents in compliance with nondisclosure agreements.
The legal fees were estimated at $16,666.
Because of the expense, Hamner said, the port thought it was in the public interest for the Sierra Club to pay for processing the records.
'Taxpayers should not have to foot the bill," she said.
Kearns said the organization appealed to Coos County District Attorney R. Paul Frasier in early 2012. Frasier waived all but the initial administrative fees for processing the documents.
The port then appealed to the circuit court, a step that led to Friday's ruling.
Hamner said the port hasn't decided whether to appeal the decision. In the meantime, she said, the port is reviewing its public records policies to prevent conflicts in the future. It is awaiting an official transcript of the ruling.