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Attorney: Coastal models are public property.

July 26, 2019

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Computer models of the Mississippi River Delta and the Louisiana coastline that were built for a state agency are public property and should be shared with the public, a lawyer for the agency told a state judge Thursday

The attorney for the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority made that assertion Thursday, shortly before attorneys for scientist Ehab Meselhe agreed to settle a public-records lawsuit against the Water Institute of the Gulf, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported .

Meselhe recently left the institute for a Tulane University post. That led to controversy over whether models created by the institute for the state were “trade secrets” or public records.

Meselhe and a colleague had briefly faced federal criminal charges alleging theft of trade secrets from the institute — charges that were soon dropped.

His public records suit demanded copies of the model and its underlying computer code alongside stacks of contracts and emails related to its development.

Under the settlement, the Water Institute agreed to turn over the requested programs and documents that include versions of the Basin Wide Model already delivered to CPRA, even though the institute’s attorneys contended the private nonprofit isn’t subject to the state’s public records law.

“We are the owners of the models produced at our request,” Megan Terrell, a top lawyer for CPRA, told state District Judge Janice Clark Thursday morning. “We think the models should be made available to the public.”

Terrell agreed with Meselhe’s contention the model is a public record and said CPRA hoped to create a user agreement ensuring open access to publicly owned models but guaranteeing that state officials will have access to improvements or modifications devised by outside researchers and programmers.

Terrell’s statements represented the first time CPRA has weighed in publicly on its ownership of the Basin Wide Model.

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Information from: The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate, http://www.nola.com

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