By Monica Christofili
If you want something done, do it with your community. Forty-four years ago, this sentiment rallied Durham residents who protected the Great Bay estuary system from oil refinery development. It’s also one of the sentiments that brought together Alliance for Newmarket Citizen & Ecosystem Rights. ANCER is an ad hoc community group founded in 2017 to empower Newmarket’s residents to protect their water and the Great Bay estuary from future chemical trespass.
But the estuary has already been contaminated by toxic Naval firefighting foam from Portsmouth’s former Pease Air Force Base and by chemicals traveling down tributaries affected by Greenland’s Coakley Landfill. So why try preventing what’s already happened? Because new threats loom over the estuary and Newmarket’s Lamprey River watershed.
Firstly, word is that Pinard Waste Management hopes to transition its Raymond recycling transfer station — approved on the Lamprey near a flood zone — into a solid waste transfer station. Secondly, Liberty Utility has planned its Granite Bridge Pipeline project to twice cross the Lamprey in Raymond. Finally, Eversource’s Seacoast Reliability Project will drill through Little Bay to create a power passage with towering transmission poles alongside the estuary.
Eversource’s project troubles ANCER members and Durham and Newington residents for a number of reasons. For one, its drilling would cause irreparable harm to the estuary’s fragile, recovering oyster bed ecosystem by stirring up 100s of years of toxic industry run-off that has settled and been contained in the bay’s sediment. The documentary Great Bay: Estuary in Peril details this damage Eversource’s “reliability” project would cause.
Nonetheless, this February, the NH Dept. of Environmental Services recommended Eversource’s project to the Site Evaluation Committee in a “lesser evil” buried version to be worked on with “safer” drills than originally proposed — yet still chemically trespassing into the estuary.
NHDES scientists may mean well, but they work in a system designed as a one-stop shop for corporate project applications; in other words, state permitting agencies find ways to at best limit rather than block harm so that applications move forward — they permit harmful projects.
In response, and with assistance from Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), ANCER is organizing a community citizens’ effort to bring forth a rights-based ordinance (RBO) to protect Newmarket’s residents, watershed, and waterways by banning future chemical trespass as a matter of inherent and inalienable rights of people and ecosystems to exist without being poisoned, thereby protecting the Great Bay and surrounding water.
Newmarket would not be the first New Hampshire town to adopt an RBO — some 11 New Hampshire towns adopted RBOs after recognizing that the current structure of law and government is set up to protect neither them nor the environment and that the only remedy left is to protect themselves locally. Consequently, RBOs are based on the collective power of community members exercising their individual right to democratically manifest the social and environmental health and viability they envision for their human residents and surrounding ecosystems.
ANCER encourages other towns on and near the estuary and its tributaries to adopt RBOs of their own, creating a powerful ring of democratic, common sense, and constitutional community ordinances that corporations will have to face if their projects threaten Seacoast water and the human and natural communities depending on it.
In fact, ANCER is part of a statewide local democracy movement working to amend New Hampshire’s Bill of Rights to recognize the right of local self-government in order to empower New Hampshire communities to make local governing decisions that elevate the rights of people and ecosystems above the right that corporations have to harm them.
This 2018, NH Community Rights Network (NHCRN) worked with bi-partisan legislative support to propose such a state constitutional amendment. One third of the N.H. House supported the amendment and the right of NH residents to protect people and ecosystems in the face of corporate harm. To learn more, visit www.nhcommunityrights.org, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Monica Christofili, of Newmarket, is ANCER co-founder