Court orders records release in city, Patriot fight against ODNR

WARREN – A court of appeals has sided with the attorney for a local water treatment company and the city of Warren in an ongoing legal fight to secure public records from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

In a decision issued last week, the Tenth District Court of Appeals in Columbus overruled a May magistrate’s opinion and ordered ODNR to turn over documents including emails and other records requested more than two years ago.

The records had been requested by attorney April Bott for use in separate litigation by her clients Patriot Water Treatment of Warren and Warren city, which are challenging changes by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency that effectively led to the shutdown of Patriot Water’s Warren operations.

While ODNR had turned over some of the requested documents, Bott presented evidence that some records had been withheld. Later, more of the requested documents were sent to Bott.

Some of the withheld records included some email and other electronic documents. According to testimony contained in the court filing, some documents were stored on personal computers of former ODNR employees, and those documents had not been retrieved. Other deleted emails, still retrievable, also had not been turned over.

“Pursuant to (Ohio Revised Code), ODNR’s clear legal duty is to promptly prepare all responsive records and to make copies of all such records available to realtor within a reasonable period of time. In other words, all means all,” the court wrote in its decision.

ODNR Public Information Officer Mark Bruce said Tuesday, “ODNR is reviewing the court’s ruling and will comply in a timely manner.”

“We are very happy with the decision,” Bott said. She said her office intends to use the documents in a separate pending case representing Patriot Water’s interests.

Patriot treats brine waste water generated in the oil and natural gas drilling industry, then disposes of it through the Warren Pollution Control Department. Permits allowing the disposal were initially granted in 2010 by the Ohio EPA, but the agency later issued new permits to Warren’s Water Pollution Control Department that included a ban on accepting brine water treated at Patriot.

The ban shut down Patriot’s operations for three months last year while Patriot fought the decision before the Environmental Review Appeals Commission. Ultimately, Patriot won a challenge of ODNR’s ruling through ERAC, but said it lost millions of dollars in business during the process.

Patriot had requested documents it needed to argue its legal case.

While the appeals court sided with Patriot on the records issue, the judges refused to order ODNR to pay Bott’s attorney fees.