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Meeting to develop a self-governing rights-based ordinance set for Nov. 16

November 09, 2011
LANCASTER — Some Lancaster residents have reserved the town hall, starting at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 16, to hold an informational public meeting on developing a self-governing rights-based ordinance that could be on the March 13, 2012, town meeting warrant, designed to fight the $1.1 billion High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) Northern Pass project designed to bring 1,200-megawatts of HydroQuebec electric power to New Hampshire. Gail Darrell of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) has been invited as the guest speaker. As announced on one of the opponent-maintained blogs, Infonorthcountrypowerline, the meeting is open to town residents and others who are interested, giving everyone a chance to learn about the ordinance and provide feedback.

An informal public hearing is already scheduled on Wednesday, Dec. 7, at the same time and place.

"One doesn't have to look very hard to see how special interests have taken control of our state and federal governing processes," replied photographer Fletcher Manley in an e-mail exchange asking why he is interested in this approach. "Special interests have always courted favor with governing bodies in this country, starting with the Continental Congress," he continued. "So that is not entirely new. But in recent decades, say over the past 20 to 30 years, it has become egregious, to the point that this nation is now controlled by a corporate oligarchy. Our representatives in Congress don't work for us anymore. That's what the Occupy movements are protesting (on Wall Street and in cities, large and small). Northern Pass is simply another example of 'corportocracy' having its way — or trying to. It is only when citizens organize, express their demands, and work in concert that they can hope to have their voice heard. When I learned how effective citizen-driven local ordinances have been in communities in southern New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and other states, I began to take notice and realize that this [proposed ordinance] may be a means whereby we can stand up and challenge the authority of special interests at the local level. The challenge lies in asserting our citizens' rights as they are clearly stated in New Hampshire's Constitution."

CELDF's website (http://www.celdf.org) describes itself as "a nonprofit, public interest law firm providing free and affordable legal services to communities facing threats to their local environment, local agriculture, the local economy, and quality of life. Our mission is to build sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the rights of nature. Established in 1995, the Legal Defense Fund has now become the principal advisor to community groups and municipal governments struggling to transition from merely regulating corporate harms to stopping those harms by asserting local, democratic control directly over corporations. 

"Through grassroots organizing, public education and outreach, legal assistance, and drafting of ordinances, we have now assisted over 110 municipalities in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Maine, and Virginia to draft and adopt new laws with over 350,000 people living under these governing frameworks. These laws address activities such as corporate water withdrawals, long wall coal mining, factory farming, the land application of sewage sludge, and uranium mining."

"Gail Darrell of CELDF will explain why the rights of the people have become less important than the rights of outside interests, and what we can do to change it," explained Valerie Herres in an e-mail exchange. "A group of Lancaster residents are concerned that the Northern Pass project continues to pose a threat to the Lancaster community, despite widespread opposition. We believe this is a strategy that would help the town enforce the will of its people against that of outside interests. The approach has been implemented in several towns in New Hampshire.

"Over time," Herres said, "residents of Lancaster, the state and the nation have realized that citizen rights, including landowner rights, and others that guarantee a community's self-development, sustainable energy, right to scenic preservation, and others have been eroded, including the right to self-governance.

As Herres envisions it, "the ordinance will be very specific and address sustainable energy within the town of Lancaster and affirm the rights of Lancaster residents. It appeals to higher laws, including those of both the State and U.S. Constitution. This is a local, rights-based, self-governing ordinance so it logically would need to be contained in a township," she said.

Peter Riviere added that it now appears that in today's world "corporations have more constitutionally derived rights than do communities and individuals."

Writing a local ordinance is patterned on how local Pennsylvania communities took on natural gas fracking companies with local residents learning how to establish — or to re-establish — their community's right to say "no" to developers without being strung out in lengthy and costly court battles.

"There is a movement to get as many communities as oppose the Northern Pass to re-assert their rights in a similar fashion, with supportive members of the Lancaster community signed on to try to get some traction," Riviere said.

In response to the question as to why some Lancaster citizens don't trust existing laws, he replied, that even the N.H. Senate was unable "to reassert what we thought was a constitutional amendment underlining the importance of no eminent domain for other than public projects."

Salmon Press
Martin Lord Osman
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