As part of its reporting on the Wind Energy Act of 2008, the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting filed a state public records request under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, called a FOAA request.

However, the Center never received much of the material it requested from the state because the cost was prohibitive: $36,239.52.

That’s what the state Public Utilities Commission wanted from the Center to search for e-mails from 2005-2007 between then-PUC Chairman Kurt Adams and any representatives of wind company First Wind (where Adams took a job after leaving the PUC); between Adams and Gov. John Baldacci, for whom Adams had previously worked as legal counsel; and between Adams and several prominent wind power attorneys employed by the law firm of Verrill Dana.

In her response to the Center’s request, Joanne Steneck, general counsel for the PUC, explained that “in order to review any e-mails from 2005 to 2007, it will be necessary to restore Mr. Adams’s mailbox from the mail server back up. According to the Office of Information Technology … it takes approximately 2 1/2 hours to restore a snapshot of each day’s e-mails.”

The Center sought access to the e-mails because Adams’ input had been crucial to the deliberations of the governor’s wind power task force.

Initially, Steneck told the Center that a search of backup discs containing e-mail records for the period prior to January 2008 could be done for a cost upward of $10,000.

The Center then asked for a waiver of the $10,000 cost, under provisions in the state’s FOAA that allow waivers to be granted for noncommercial use of public information.

The PUC refused to grant the waiver and revised its estimate of the cost for the Center to get the information to $36,239.52.

According to Steneck, the increased estimate represents the actual cost for OIT to retrieve and restore 824 backup tapes, at a charge of $21.99 per hour, plus the time it would take for PUC personnel to review the restored e-mail messages and redact confidential information. The process is laborious, she explained, because “the state of Maine’s e-mail system was designed in such a way that the backup and restore process allows for disaster recovery purposes only and does not include duplication or search criteria of an archive retrieval system.”

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