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Port secrecy denies public right to investigate corporate character
Almost two years ago, then Port of Coos Bay CEO Jeff Bishop made a bold pronouncement which was dutifully distributed verbatim by the local press. “A substantial business with commercial interests in the Coos Bay Area”, he proclaimed, “asked the port to resume rail service by June 20 so that the business could ‘take advantage of an economic opportunity for itself and for the Coos Bay area’.” Bishop could not reveal the identity of the company citing confidentiality but this opportunity, he claimed, required the port to declare a state of emergency so it could make swift repairs to the Coos Bay Rail Link to enable from 100 to 500 carloads of freight per month.
Amid much local excitement about the possibility of new jobs The World published Bishop’s claims which were in turn picked up by other media including the Longshore and Shipping News but unfortunately none of it was true. Bishop had made the entire “emergency” up and the port even lied about having a NDA (non-disclosure agreement) to avoid having to comply with public record requests. The port lied to the public and provided false hope with the promise of imminent new jobs and the paper either considered such lies commonplace or never considered it newsworthy enough to correct the record.
Once again the port is making news over its economic development plans but this time because it has dug in its heels once again claiming confidentiality to avoid providing public records regarding a controversial coal export terminal. Coos County Circuit Judge Paula Bechtold says the port “abused its discretion” when it presented monetary roadblocks to the Sierra Club seeking records on proposed coal exports. As reported in The Oregonian
The port showed “bad faith,” the judge said, when it demanded that the Sierra Club provide detailed information about the group’s membership and finances before the port would decide whether to waive nearly $20,000 in fees to produce the records.
“The strong inference can be drawn that the port’s actual intent was to force the Sierra Club to fold its tent and go away,” Bechtold said in an oral ruling delivered last Friday.
As an economic development agency the port conducts itself as the “authority” on maritime commerce and gives no regard to whether the public would even want to invite some of these undisclosed companies into the area. The Sierra Club unearthed information about one of the companies the port wants to entice to Coos Bay, the huge Japanese conglomerate, Mitsui.
Mitsui was embroiled in several scandals in the early-mid 2000s. In early 2002, Mitsui employees enlisted the help of a government official to interfere in bidding for a project on a Russian island. In mid-2002, news came out that the company had bribed a senior Mongolian government official in order to get orders for a power project. In 2003, Mitsui shut down one of its petrochemical plants, which failed inspections that took place because the company admitted to falsifying safety reports. In 2006, Mitsui oil traders were convicted of falsifying accounts to hide losses amounting to 81 milllion U.S. dollars.
Metro Ports another company protected by a port NDA is embroiled in several lawsuits and may not be the type of company that should be welcomed in Coos County as neighbors or employers but as a developer, the port doesn’t care. It can be argued that these NDAs, (if and when they actually exist), do more to protect the poor decisions of the port administrators than the companies they claim to be working with.
Watch this informative video about the coal industry and how it profits at taxpayer expense.