By Pattie Pacella, Neighb News Correspondent
Approximately 250 Acushnet residents filed into the Ford Middle School for the Special Town Meeting on Tuesday, 8/30. In addition, there were an additional 50 non-voting people who attended.
Town moderator Robert Francis laid down the ground rules and asked residents to keep their comments to what the Articles were about.
“Although all important,” he said. “I will not allow someone to continue on about the pros and cons of the LNG project, that’s not why we are here.”
Mr. Francis also told residents that he would not hesitate to have anyone who is rude to speakers escorted from the room if necessary.
There were only two articles on the warrant, both pertaining to the proposed expansion of the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility on Peckham Road.
Access Northeast, a project proposed by Eversource, National Grid and Spectra Energy, will seek to construct two 3.4 Bcf (billion cubic feet) tanks with an outside diameter of 270 feet at the base and a height of 170 feet each. The site on Peckham Road currently contains two LNG tanks with a total capacity of .5 Bcf.
Article One, which was petitioned by residents and was the reason for the special TM, directed town officials to oppose the expansion.
Article Two, which was a by-law change recommended by the LNG committee and submitted by the Selectboard, required a permit for operating an LNG facility and laid out extensive safety precautions and requirements.
Resident John Howcroft made a motion to move Article two before Article one stating that it was paramount because Article two referred to safety and he wished that it would be discussed first. Mr. Howcroft’s motion was seconded.
Representing South Coast Neighbors United Inc. (SCNU), resident Roger Cabral said that Article one was also of importance in referring to safety and that most people present were there to hear discussion on Article one, so he asked that Article one be the first to be heard as stated in the warrant.
Mr. Francis asked for a vote and the motion to move Article two before Article one failed; with only approximately a dozen people or so in favor.
Mr. Cabral read from Article one in his motion to open the discussion on the floor.
Mr. Howcroft recommended discussing each of the seven points separately. He said he felt it would take the town in different directions and each point should be judged on its own.
Town Counsel Darren Klein of Kopelman & Paige explained to residents that the Article is called a “petitioned Article.”
He said that neither the Selectboard nor Town Clerk had any authority to make changes to the Article presented because it was a petitioned Article from a select group of residents.
Mr. Klein also said that the “Article is offering a non-binding resolution.”
It, in essence, gives the Selectboard an idea of how the people present feel about the project.
“Just to be clear,” he said. “If passed tonight by voters present, it will not require the Selectboard to take any action.”
Mr. Howcroft made a motion to vote each of the seven divisions (a-g) separately. The motion was seconded.
Mr. Cabral said, “I don’t see a lot of differences in the tone of this Article; I think it sends a very clear message.”
He said he did not support separating them.
Selectboard Chairperson Garry Rawcliffe stated the article was non-binding whether it stands by itself or is divided into seven separate components.
“The town is not being put in harm’s way, and it doesn’t matter which way you vote,” said Mr. Rawcliffe, to a few groans and loud voices saying, “Yes, it does matter.”
Splitting the Article into seven components did not pass.
Mr. Cabral spoke in favor of the article. He stated that he was speaking on behalf of SCNU.
“We have patiently waited for the Selectboard to take action,” said Mr. Cabral, then reviewed the time table from the very first meeting 49 weeks ago to the present time.
“Forty-nine weeks for some kind of leadership from our elected officials,” he said. “We have been waiting forty-nine weeks. Forty-nine weeks.”
Mr. Cabral also stated he was disappointed that there was no reverse 911 telephone call to residents to remind them of the meeting.
“I and I alone made the decision today not to do the 911 reverse call to residents,” said Mr. Rawcliffe. “It costs us about $900 each time we do that, and with us already paying for this special town meeting, I decided to save the money.”
A resident yelled out from the back row, “I would’ve given you the nine hundred bucks.”
Mr. Francis reminded residents that he did not want any calling out.
“This is a formal meeting,” he said.
Resident, Leo Coons spoke in favor of the LNG project.
“I am in favor of the expansion of the tanks,” he said.
He told residents that coal and nuclear power plants were being closed and there was “going to be a shortage.”
A few other residents spoke in opposition of the project with Mr. Francis reminding them to direct their comments to the purpose brought forward to the body, and that is whether or not the Selectboard should vote against the project.
Selectboard member Kevin Gaspar empathized with residents saying, “I know this is a very emotional topic for a lot of people here.”
He reminded residents that only two of the 13 documents have been filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
“How can you sit here and force us to make a decision based on only 20% of the information? How do we make a rational judgment without knowing and receiving all the documents,” said Mr. Gaspar, adding that he believed it would be prudent to take a “wait and see approach.”
“I understand this is a very emotional matter and frustrations are running high,” he said.
Selectboard member Mike Cioper concurred with Mr. Gaspar.
“To say we are doing nothing is not true,” said Mr. Cioper. “The LNG Advisory Committee gave us their report and we have further broken it down to do our own research. There has to be give and take.”
He said that people have to try and be patient.
“I go back to what Fire Chief [Kevin] Gallagher stated in his report, we should be making decisions based on fact, law and science not emotions,” said Mr. Cioper.
Resident Richard DeMasso said that he wanted to comment on something he heard a Selectboard member say.
“You said it doesn’t really matter how we vote, and you know what I think, we all matter,” said Mr. DeMasso.
Mr. Gaspar noted that the Article mandates that the Selectboard adamantly oppose the project.
“This is not a dictatorship and I will not be dictated too,” said Mr. Gaspar.
“I think that when someone from up here on the stage said that it doesn’t matter, they meant that it will not change the legal effect to the Selectboard,” Mr. Klein said.
Mr. Cabral returned to the podium to ask Selectboard members directly if they read the “720 pages of the first report” that came out.
Mr. Gaspar responded: “Every word.”
And then he said, “I’m just joking, I was trying to lighten the mood. I have not.”
Mr. Cabral seemed not to be amused.
“I don’t want to be disrespectful than I might already be being,” he said. “I move the question.”
Mr. Coons returned to the podium to speak again, and someone from the back row yelled, “Sit down.”
Mr. Francis called the meeting back to order.
“There will be no cat-calling, no hissing, and no booing,” he yelled. “If this is the way you act in a formalized meeting then you need to leave right now.”
Mr. Francis called for the vote on Article one and it passed with only about a dozen or so in opposition.
For Article two, Chief Gallagher spoke first.
“Before I give a brief presentation on the Article,” he started. “I ask for you all to keep a young woman from Acushnet in your thoughts and prayers this evening who is fighting for her life after a horrific accident on Saturday.”
He also asked for people to keep in their thoughts and prayers the first responders and EMT’s who were on the scene that evening.
“They saved a life on Saturday,” Chief Gallagher said, “I’m very proud of them.”
In his presentation regarding Article two, he stated that he is often asked whether Acushnet will be safe with the expansion of the LNG project, and he honestly answers, “I don’t know.”
“We need some assistance in figuring that out,” he said.
Chief Gallagher went over the responsibilities of the LNG Advisory Committee and what they were tasked to do. He also explained that it was a decision not being “made locally.”
He explained who the FERC was and that there are presently only three sitting members on the five member board.
“One person resigned last year, and the other person’s term expired on June 30, 2016,” said the chief. “And at this time, with all the information I’m receiving there [are] no plans to appoint until after the inauguration.”
He asked residents to call state representatives and senators and ask them to appoint FERC members.
“The possibility if this proceeds,” he said. “Pro or con by a 3-0 vote, or a 2-1 vote.”
Chief Gallagher said the draft by-law was modeled after the state of New York and ties the permit to a long list of permits for the certificate of occupancy.
“We may not be able to control if a LNG facility is built but we do have control over the permits that require a certificate of occupancy,” he said. “I would respectfully ask you for your support of Article two.”
Mr. Francis stated that a two-thirds vote was required to pass the Article. In a show of hands, everyone but one person voted in favor of Article two.
The STM adjourned at 8:20 p.m., after 1:20 in session.
Click to download the entire 9/1/16 issue: 09-01-16 issQuahogRelay
Click here to download the SCNU press release: 50 BusinessesAgainstPipeline