Group wins fight over Oregon port's coal plan

Judge rules public records must be given to Sierra Club

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COOS BAY, Ore. (AP) -- The Oregon chapter of The Sierra Club has won the latest round in its effort to get public records from the Port of Coos Bay about plans to export coal.

The World newspaper reported Thursday that Circuit Judge Paula Bechtold has ruled the port violated public records law and the Sierra Club's constitutional rights when it demanded more than $19,000 to produce the records.

The Sierra Club has been trying to get the records since 2011 as part of a long-running battle over coal exports to Asia, which opponents argue would contribute to global warming.

The port agreed to produce the 2,500 pages of documents, but wanted to be paid for the cost of a lawyer blacking out confidential material.

A port spokeswoman, Elise Hamner, says it hasn't decided whether to appeal.

The port countered the records request with a series of questions about the club's finances and personal finances of its board.

A lawyer for the Sierra Club, Jessica Yarnall Loarie, said the judge decided port officials "were essentially acting in bad faith with their questions" trying to ward off the records request and violating the club's rights to free speech and freedom of association. The judge found the port had established a pattern by asking similar questions of other groups.

So, Yarnall Loarie said, the judge ruled the port couldn't collect any of the more than $19,000.

Most of that consisted of lawyer's fees, but a few thousand dollars was for the administrative costs of assembling the records. The Coos County district attorney, R. Paul Frasier, had earlier decided the port could collect the administrative money, though not the legal fees, and the port appealed his decision to Bechtold.

The port's chief executive officer, David Koch, said in a statement he was troubled by the ruling on the constitutional violation. "That was certainly not the port's intention," he said.