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Self-governing ordinance initiators seek warrant article signatures

December 14, 2011
LANCASTER — About 25 Lancaster residents, plus another 10 from Stratford and other nearby towns, turned out on Wednesday night, Dec. 7, to hear Gail Darrell of the Mercersburg, Penn.-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) explain how a self-governing rights-based ordinance could help Lancaster fight the proposed $1.1 billion Northern Pass Transmission project. NPT would require 130-foot-high towers to be erected within the county seat's borders to carry 1,200 megawatts of electricity on five-and-a-half-plus miles of existing PSNH right-of-way.

Many of the Lancaster residents left Wednesday's meeting pledging to begin collecting signatures to place a petitioned article on the town meeting warrant (agenda) that will come before voters on March 13.

Feb. 7 is the last day for 25 or more voters or 2 percent of the voters, whichever is less, in a town to apply to the board of selectmen to include a warrant article.

Herres (infonorthcountrypowerline@gmail.com) urged those on hand to talk with their neighbors about this self-governing approach. Lancaster could become a modern-day Indian Stream Republic, one proponent said, only half-jokingly.

The Bill of Rights outlined within the proposed ordinance includes "a Right to a Sustainable Energy Future, prohibits corporations from acquiring land necessary for the construction of unsustainable energy systems, or engaging in the construction or siting of any structure to be used in the operation of unsustainable energy systems, removes certain legal powers from energy corporations operating within the Town of Lancaster that would violate the Right to a Sustainable Energy Future, and nullifies state laws, permits and other authorizations which interfere with the rights secured by the ordinance."

By its own definition "'unsustainable energy systems' means those systems that are controlled by state and federal energy policies, rather than community controlled energy policies; hydroelectric power and industrial scale wind power when it is not locally or municipally owned and operated, energy systems using fossil fuels, including but not limited to coal, natural gas, petroleum products, nuclear and radioactive materials, and other fuel sources tat are non-renewable, or which produce toxins and substances that cause injury to humans or natural communities and ecosystems, or that are in violation of residents' right to a sustainable energy future."

Gas stations, burning wood and wood products, and generating on-site heat or power by the use of propane, kerosene, heating oil, coal or natural gas would not be included if the energy produced is not sold, transmitted, or distributed.

The existing Portland Pipe Line facility in Lancaster that pays 2.34 percent of Lancaster's property taxes would not be affected, Darrell said, unless the company sought to install another pipeline to carry additional crude oil from Portland Harbor to Montreal. Energy policies adopted by townspeople and-or the board of selectmen would control whether or not such a construction project within the town's borders would be possible.

Darrell said the proposed ordinance has been set up so that if one section were to be struck down in court, the remaining sections would remain in force.

A number of other towns are also likely to have very similar ordinances come before town meeting voters, including Plymouth, Holderness, Campton, Thornton, and Chichester. A number of other towns are looking into it, Darrell said, including Sugar Hill and Franconia.

Town manager Ed Samson explained in an e-mail exchange that he had been misquoted in an earlier article that sought to explain his reason for opposing adoption of the proposed article. Although he has come to believe that negatives of Northern Pass would outweigh the positives, Samson pointed out that "the burden would be entirely on the Town to prove that it is legal."

The CELDF is not associated with the Conservation Law Foundation, which has its New Hampshire headquarters in Concord.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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