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PUC: Sorry for that $36,000 e-mail charge

AUGUSTA – The Maine Public Utilities Commission has apologized for asking a journalism organization for $36,000 to see e-mails of the commission’s former chairman.

The current chairman of the commission sent a letter to the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting this week explaining that a subsequent review of the state’s computer system showed that the actual cost of retrieving the e-mails was $160 – 16 hours work at $10 an hour.

Jack Cashman said he was waiving even that amount and provided the requested e-mails to the center at no cost “because of the history of this issue.”

On April 21, the center published an in-depth story in a dozen daily and weekly newspapers across the state about former PUC Chairman Kurt Adams leaving his state job to take a top position with the private wind energy firm First Wind. The requested e-mails were part of the research into a possible second story.

In a letter addressed to the author of the Adams story, the center’s executive director and senior reporter Naomi Schalit, Cashman wrote: “I am writing this cover letter to apologize on behalf of the PUC for the confusion and misinformation that was disseminated following the original request on April 23, 2010.”

Cashman’s letter explained that the original estimate of the extent of the work to find the e-mails was done under the direction of the former state chief information officer, who said it would cost $36,000 to retrieve the e-mails from the state’s storage system.

But after a second media outlet, WABI-TV in Bangor, also requested the e-mails, Cashman explained that a new chief information officer had been appointed and he discovered a number of errors had been made regarding the availability of the e-mails.

The 2005-2008 emails that were requested are now being reviewed by Schalit.