By THOMAS P. CALDWELL, LACONIA DAILY SUN
ASHLAND — With some questions remaining as to the legitimacy of such actions, the Ashland Board of Selectmen has voted to pursue a rights-based ordinance, or RBO, in an effort to stop Eversource from bringing its Northern Pass hydroelectric transmission lines through the town.
Selectman Tejasinha Sivalingam made the motion during this week’s selectmen’s meeting, saying it is a good step to take for addressing both current issues and future ones.
“It empowers the community, protects the health of individuals, and advocates for a greater sense of local, democratic control,” he said.
Chairman Fran Newton acknowledged that Ashland voters have twice said they did not want Northern Pass in Ashland, but she noted that the town has filed as intervenors before the state Site Evaluation Committee, which has the authority to rule on the plan to bring direct-current transmission lines through the state.
“I haven’t seen the specific wording of the rights-based ordinance,” Newton said. “When we get it, we can certainly discuss it.”
Sivalingam said, with the possibility that the SEC will rule in favor of Northern Pass in February, it is important to get the ordinance in place. Michelle Sanborn of Alexandria, representing the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, has offered to help the town draft an ordinance that reflects Ashland’s specific needs and concerns.
“There are several steps, and we’re coming to this late in the game,” Sivalingam said. “Tonight, we really have to consider the largest steps possible.”
The discussion came at the request of Grafton County District 9 Rep. Vincent Paul Migliore of Bridgewater, who is urging all of the towns he represents to hold RBO workshops so residents and town officials are familiar with the option.
“I am not asking anyone to adopt an RBO,” he said.
Migliore has co-sponsored legislation seeking a community rights constitutional amendment, CACR19. Currently, rights-based ordinances have no legal standing, and an amendment would embed those rights in the New Hampshire Constitution.
To make the case for that bill, Migliore said, it would be helpful to be able to say that his constituent towns had adopted rights-based ordinances.
His own town, Bridgewater, has agreed to hold a workshop, but did not yet set a date.
Ashland Selectman Harold Lamos said they owe it to the town to move forward with such an ordinance. He said he owns land in Danbury and was seeing his property values declining in the face of a proposal from Iberdrola to build wind towers.
“Days after they passed an RBO, Iberdrola withdrew, and now property values have gone back up,” he said.
Sanborn told the selectmen that 11 communities in New Hampshire have adopted rights-based ordinances, and no one has challenged them.
Addressing worries about the potential legal costs, Sanborn said the only potential cost is if an entity views the ordinance as an obstacle and challenges it. The community then has the option of not enforcing the ordinance if it wants to avoid litigation.
“We can draft into the ordinance the potential to challenge it legally,” she said. “Then the RBO takes the conversation out of zoning and land use and into a less expensive argument.”
Sivalingam said there are members of the community interested in supporting a rights-based ordinance and his motion to seek the free legal help from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund also included working with citizens.
The motion passed unanimously, after which the selectmen also passed a motion to hold an RBO workshop on Saturday, Dec. 16, at 1 p.m., at a location to be determined.