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Rights-Based Ordinance crushed at Lancaster Town Meeting

March 21, 2012
LANCASTER–After months of discussion and debate, the Rights-Based Ordinance warrant article was soundly defeated at Lancaster's Town Meeting in secret ballot by a vote of 233-65.

Newly appointed town moderator, Jay Riff, laid the ground rules and set the tone of a very cordially conducted town meeting saying, "We're all neighbors and friends. Let's remember that when we discuss these articles."

Discussion on the Rights-Based Ordinance started with a warning from Riff that Lancaster's town council, Waystack and Frizzell, had reviewed the warrant article and that it potentially violated the Fifth Amendment of the United States Bill of Rights and Article II and XII of the New Hampshire Constitution. Riff did not elaborate on the legalese of where the warrant article violated but assured the audience of more than 300 the town could expect a potential lawsuit, if passed.

Members of the community that worked to put together the Rights-Based Ordinance hoped this would give the town of Lancaster some say into stopping the potential HydroQuebec project Northern Pass.

"Never has the regulatory process stopped an outside corporate project from going through," said Valerie Herres of Lancaster. "They have changed projects but never stopped one. This ordinance protects us from Northern Pass and the decision (to put it through Lancaster) in the hands of Lancaster citizens so we don't have to depend on the State and Federal governments or the kindest of corporations."

Bob Belwell gave an impassioned speech on why the Rights-Based Ordinance should be defeated. "It allows anyone to challenge anything they don't like. If someone didn't like something that was built around town, they could run to the Court and file against it." Belwell also didn't like that in the wording of the warrant article, written by the Pennsylvania based Community Environmental Defense Fund, "It gives inalienable rights to every living thing, including trees."

Belwell also commented, "I'm dead against the Northern Pass but it frightens me that every member of Lancaster can check up on other landowners. It would take away from the rights of all landowners."

After about thirty minutes of discussion, the warrant article was moved to a secret ballot vote where it was overwhelmingly defeated.

Lancaster Town Manager, Ed Sampson said, "The ordinance was illegal. You cannot contradict State and Federal law. It would have allowed everybody the means to limit what they can or can't do with their land."

In other business, a warrant article asking for the election of planning and zoning board members was defeated. The article was brought forward because of the current system of planning and zoning board members being appointed to these positions by the town selectmen.

"(The Planning/Zoning Board) is a lot of headaches with no monetary reward," said Planning/Zoning Board Coordinator Benjamin Gaetjens-Oleson. "I spoke with someone who would have been fantastic but their comment was 'the political aspect would rub me the wrong way.'"

Currently the Planning Board is made up of seven members and two alternates. The Zoning Board has five voting members and three alternates.

The only other warrant articles to be defeated were $4,600 to Tri-County Community Action and $2,464 to the Mt. Washington Regional Airport. Neither group sent a representative to discuss why they were asking for these appropriations.

The town operating budget of $4,978,226.00 was approved with no discussion.

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Town of Brookfield
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