By Pattie Pacella, Neighb News Correspondent
The Acushnet Selectboard met on Friday, 7/29, at noon to discuss a request by South Coast Neighbors United (SCNU) for a Special Town Meeting about the “Access Northeast Project,” which seeks to expand the liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility on Peckham Street.
Kevin Gaspar chaired the meeting as Garry Rawcilffe did not attend. Board member Mike Cioper and Administrative Assistant Lisa Leonard also attended. The meeting was not filmed by government access.
The petition states:
“To see if Town will vote to direct the Board of Selectmen and all other elected and appointed Town officials and bodies to:
“A: State their opposition to the Access Northeast Project – FERC Docket Number PF16-1-000.
“B. use all authority vested in them to prevent the proposed expansion of LNG storage facilities within the Town of Acushnet;
“C. communicate with appropriate Departments within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and our elected representatives to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the United States House of Representatives and Senate to solicit their assistance in blocking the Access Northeast Project and the proposed expansion of LNG storage facilities within the Town of Acushnet;
“d. communicate with other area cities and Towns to solicit their assistance in blocking the Access Northeast Project and the proposed expansion of LNG storage facilities within the town of Acushnet;
“e. file the action taken on this article with the FERC under the current FERC pre-filing docket for the Access Northeast project Docket 16-1-000 within ten days after the Town Meeting at which this article is considered
“f. intervene on the formal FERC docket for the Access Northeast project, when it is opened.
“g. ask our state and federal legislators and executive branch officials to oppose the taking of conservation protected lands for pipeline infrastructure including but not limited to those lands protected by Article 97 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution and hold state permitting for this project to the highest standards.”
Mr. Gaspar stated that the article and petition had three hundred or so signatures with it and those signatures will be sent to the registrar’s office to be validated.
Mr. Cioper said he was not sure if the article was legal the way it was written. He said he was unsure the article was the way to go and that it reads “all appointed and elected officials,” which are approximately close to two hundred to speak against the LNG project. Mr. Cioper also said he was unsure if they were bound to hold a Special TM, he wanted to make sure the article was sent to town counsel to review.
Mr. Gaspar said he tended to agree with Mr. Cioper, and that he believed it would serve as a ballot question but not a special town meeting. He said that they are being forced to set a Special TM within 45 days of receiving the petition.
“I don’t appreciate people dictating a specific vote for everyone,” Mr. Gaspar said. “Last I knew this was still America.”
He said he could empathize and understand the anti LNG Group’s anxiety over the proposed project, however town officials have to represent all ten thousand people, not just three or five hundred.
Mr. Cioper referred back to the LNG Advisory Committee that referenced, “Fact. Law & Science,” he said. “I think this article was written on emotion and I don’t think we should govern on that.”
Mr. Gaspar said that Town Counsel stated that any vote taken at town meeting under this proposed article would not be enforceable. Mr. Gaspar invited Fire Chief Kevin Gallagher to comment.
Chief Gallagher stated that the way he read the article, it was very black and white with no wiggle room.
“As a department head I’m concerned,” he said. “I believe we would be handcuffed on what we can say in any response to the proponents of the project. I’m not sure that is in the town’s best interest.
Chief Gallagher added that he has had many conversations behind the scenes and he fears this would take away his ability to continue those conversations.
Mr. Gaspar said that he thought the town should have ballot question, with very simple questions: “One, are you for the expansion? Two, are you for any type of a smaller expansion. And three, are you adamantly against the LNG project. It should be questions like these three and be a yes or no answer. Simple.”
“This is the wrong process,” Mr. Gaspar said. “But our hand has been forced to set a date for a Special Town Meeting.”
The Selectboard scheduled the Special Town Meeting for Tuesday, August 30. A brief discussion was had on the cost of a special town meeting, and Mr. Gaspar estimated it to be around $2,000.
“Which we haven’t planned on,” he said.
Chief Gallagher asked if perhaps at this special town meeting the by-law that the LNG Advisory Committee drafted to establish a permit for the operation of an LNG facility in the town of Acushnet could also be included and vote on.
A motion was made and seconded that the only other article that would be heard at this town meeting would be Chief Gallagher’s article of the by-law.
Town clerk Pamela Labonte told the board that once the signatures on the proposed article were certified that the selectboard would have to make a motion to accept the certified signatures at their next meeting.
In other business a brief discussion took place regarding the town’s hiring a firm to perform accounting d duties on an interim basis.
“We have no town accountant, no director of finance, and no town administrator,” Mr. Gaspar said.
The firm is Eric Kinsheaf of Sagamore Beach and they will work a few days a week to provide some town accountant assistance. Mr. Gaspar asked Ms. Leonard how the hiring process was going for the town accountant
“Unfortunately, we are not getting a good pool of applicants,” said Ms. Leonard. “It’s a work in progress.”
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