Charleston, SC – A prominent FOI attorney says that the South Carolina State Ports Authority’s strategic plan is specifically exempt from public disclosure under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act.
Contain the Port, an anti-port activist group, recently requested that the Ports Authority release its strategic plan. William L. Pope, a Columbia attorney who is recognized as an expert in sunshine laws, says in a written opinion dated June 21, “the strategic plan may be declared exempt from disclosure under the FOIA.”
While Contain the Port’s attorney referenced a section of the Freedom of Information Act that says plans must be released, it is subject to certain boundaries. In fact, S.C. Code 30-4-50 (A)5 says that while “written planning policies and goals and final planning decisions” are subject to the FOI act, disclosure is “subject to the restrictions and limitations” of Section 30-4-40, which protects trade secrets. Trade secrets are defined to include “commercially valuable plans.”
Section 30-4-40 says that trade secrets “also include, for those public bodies who market services or products in competition with others, feasibility, planning, and marketing studies, and evaluations and other materials which contain references to potential customers, competitive information, or evaluation.”
Pope cites the South Carolina law in the letter, stating that public bodies who market services or products in competition with others “may exempt from disclosure trade secrets which include feasibility, planning and marketing studies, evaluations and other materials, which contain references to potential customers, competitive information, or evaluation.”
The Ports Authority battles with other states and cities in the region to attract ships and cargo to South Carolina’s seaports. Over the past three years the Port of Charleston has become the nation’s fourth busiest container port, handling cargo valued at $79 million every day. Market share has increased steadily at the expense of competing ports.
“South Carolina’s port system is in a highly competitive market,” said Bernard S. Groseclose Jr., president and CEO of the Ports Authority. “Ports in other cities are actively vying for our state’s commerce.”
“The strategic plan is a living, breathing document that is subject to continuing modification,” said Groseclose. “It contains important competitive information and ever-evolving strategies, which
could be detrimental to our port’s competitive position if disclosed.”