PRINCESS ANNE — An attorney for the Somerset County Sanitary Commission who filed a Freedom of Information Act request for state documents has been told it will cost him more than $200,000 for photocopies and clerical work.
“That’s a lot of reproduction,” said attorney Robin Cockey, who is representing the Sanitary Commission in a lawsuit against the Maryland Department of the Environment. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Cockey said he first filed a discovery request for the state to produce the documents pertaining to two well permit applications. Such requests are routine and would have resulted in copies supplied at no charge or — if the files were too voluminous — the opportunity to review them in person at MDE’s office, he said.
But when the state filed a motion to postpone discovery and it was upheld by a judge, Cockey asked for the papers under the state’s Public Information Act.
In response, he received a letter from MDE breaking down the costs for $130,290 in clerical and professional work and $72,774 for photocopies of more than 8,000 files and 202,150 pages.
Cockey said he was “a little surprised” at the charges.
“Times are tight,” he said. “Maybe this is the way they raise revenue at the Department of the Environment.”
MDE spokesman Robert Ballinger said the department uses the same fees for every request it receives, and the information is outlined on MDE’s Web site.
The department receives more than 10,000 public information requests per year, and the fees pay the salaries of state employees who must locate the files and then copy them, he said.
Cockey said he plans to travel to Baltimore next week to look at the files.
In the meantime, a motions hearing in the Sanitary Commission’s lawsuit is scheduled to be heard Friday morning in Princess Anne.
Attorneys for the state will seek to have the case dismissed so it can go through an administrative hearings process rather than be heard in Circuit Court. If the state’s motion is denied, the case will go to trial.
In October, the Sanitary Commission filed a lawsuit against MDE in an attempt to get permits for two wells in the Patapsco aquifer on Revells Neck Road.
The wells would serve existing customers in Princess Anne, where a water shortage exists, as well as allow an expansion of services into Westover.
The lawsuit claims Secretary of the Environment Shari Wilson has refused to sign the permits although the water in the wells “complied with all applicable standards.”