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Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, OOR Dkt AP 2012-1968 Appeals Board Promotes Agency Transparency by Compelling PennDOT to Explain its Actions

Appeals Board Promotes Agency Transparency by Compelling PennDOT to Explain its Actions

In an effort to better understand the Pennsylvania Departments of Transportation’s (PennDOT) rational for its seemingly continual selection of the more environmental harmful bridge replacement option in lieu of the more conservation-oriented bridge repair option, DRN submitted a Right-to-Know Law request to obtain documents on the proposed Headquarters Road Bridge replacement project in Tinicum Township, Bucks County. With little rational or explanation, PennDOT denied our request for information. Seeing this denial as an affront to agency transparency and infringing upon public access and participation in the agency decision making process that is so necessary to hold public officials accountable for their actions, DRN challenged PennDOT’s denial of documents as being woefully deficient. In particular, when denying documents to a requestor, the agency is required to describe the records withheld with sufficient particularity so that the requestor can ascertain whether each record falls into the asserted exception cited for denial.

The RTKL administrative appeals board, the Office of Open Records, agreed with DRN and compelled PennDOT to produce an exemption log outlining and describing each document withheld by PennDOT and the reason for the withholding. Because of this exemption log, we now have better understanding of where this bridge project is in its approval process and more able to accomplish our advocacy and legal goals.