- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
After a judge ruled in favor last week of the Accokeek Mattawoman Piscataway Creeks Community Council in a lawsuit filed against the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners, another case brought by the council challenging county government’s actions will be heard Aug. 22 in Calvert County Circuit Court.
Last week visiting Judge James P. Salmon ruled a county ordinance to exclude liquefied natural gas facilities from the zoning ordinance to be invalid in a suit initiated by the AMP council.
The case to be heard next week involves a Public Information Act request by the council for county correspondence dealing with a nondisclosure agreement signed with Dominion, which is seeking to establish an export facility at its Cove Point LNG plant.
On Jan. 30, the AMP Creeks Council released the nondisclosure agreement, which it obtained through a public information request. But Sean Canavan, the lawyer representing the creeks council, said Wednesday the information request was not fully honored.
The AMP Creeks Council filed a complaint Feb. 18 because the county denied the organization a fee waiver to obtain the documents, did not provide all the documents requested and failed to make an adequate search for the documents, Canavan said Wednesday.
On Nov. 21, 2013, AMP submitted a Public Information Act request to the office of the Calvert County attorney. On Dec. 12, John Norris, county attorney, informed the council it would be responsible for about $60,000 in reproduction and labor costs. The AMP council asked for a waiver of fees, but Norris said the county’s policy was to restrict fee waivers to journalists, according to the complaint from Canavan.
AMP submitted a revised request Dec. 16 because the council could not afford to pay the $60,000 cost. The request was for “copies of all correspondence between Dominion Cove Point … and the Calvert County government,” according to the complaint.
The $60,000 cost to the council cited by the county government came from the estimate that 148 staff hours and 43,165 pages would be involved in the broadest reading of the original request, according to the motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Victoria Shearer, a lawyer with the Baltimore firm handling the case for the county.
The revised version of the request clarified the AMP council was not looking for correspondence or documentation that could not be released because it is covered under the nondisclosure agreement. The revised request specified the term covered was from Nov. 21, 2010 to the present.
The earliest document produced was dated July 27, 2012, and was a short email referencing the draft of the nondisclosure agreement.
“The nature of that email makes clear that there were many previous communications,” the complaint reads.
In the motion to dismiss the case, Shearer wrote, “The documents that Plaintiff [AMP Council] complains were not produced prior to July 2012 were not produced, because, at the time of the Plaintiff’s request under the MPIA [Maryland Public Information Act], those documents had already been discarded or destroyed per the county’s routine procedure and policies.”
The motion to dismiss goes on to say that Jan. 27, 2014, all “available non-priviledged, non-exempt documents in the county’s possession” were sent to Canavan, and no fee was charged for the copies or research time.
Canavan said the council is pursuing this issue in court because citizens have the right to know the circumstances behind the county’s agreement with Dominion for payment in lieu of taxes, which begins July 1, 2017, according to previous reports.
“The county surrendered all this money ... based on information that was not available to the public,” Canavan said Wednesday, of the nondisclosure agreement and the payment in lieu of taxes period for Dominion Cove Point.
Canavan said the hearing for the case is scheduled for 9 a.m. Aug. 22.
Michael Rynd, a lawyer from Karpinski, Colaresi and Karp, the Baltimore law firm handling the case on behalf of the county, declined to comment on the case.