By Kathleen D. Bailey / firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted Oct 3, 2018 at 10:46 AMUpdated Oct 3, 2018 at 10:46 AM
EPPING -- Michelle Sanborn of Alexandria looked over a roomful of people in the Harvey-Mitchell Library Children’s Room. “Who can define what ‘community rights’ means?” she asked.
One woman said, “to protect the environment,” while a man said, “to protect whatever rights the community may have.” But one woman made it even more succinct, calling out, “it’s the right to say ‘no.’”
About 20 people crammed into the library’s main meeting space last week to learn about their rights as citizens and the rights of property, which can’t speak for itself.
The group assembled to hear what residents of the Route 101 corridor could do to stop the proposed Granite Bridge natural gas pipeline, an initiative of Liberty Utilities that would link natural gas conduits in the Merrimack Valley region with the Seacoast. The pipeline is scheduled to run along a state right-of-way through Candia, Raymond, Brentwood, Epping and Exeter, ending in Stratham. A storage tank is slated for an abandoned quarry in Epping.
Sanborn, president of the New Hampshire Community Rights Network and an organizer for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, was the speaker. The Community Rights Network exists to educate communities and their elected officials on the need to amend the Bill of Rights to recognize and protect the rights of local communities, she explained.
According to Sanborn, those rights are an endangered species. She pointed to two recent efforts in the state Legislature. House Bill 1233 preempts all local regulation of seeds and fertilizer and became law this past August. HB 1749 is still in study and would give the state the authority to regulate or prohibit firearms and knives. “This won’t even be voted on in town meeting,” Sanborn said. “And we are the lawmakers?”
Restrictions and “punishment” are making local government irrelevant, Sanborn argued, and easy to override and ignore.
“What is town meeting for,” Sanborn asked rhetorically, noting the “purest form of democracy” is being superseded by state and federal authorities. And these, she said, are weighted toward corporations and not local needs or opinions.
“The system isn’t broken,” Sanborn said. “It’s fixed. It’s fixed against you and me.”
People can still fight within the system, Sanborn said, though it’s weighted against them. She and her group prefer to work through what she calls a rights-based ordinance.
“It’s a binding local law, passed by the voting body, that makes it illegal to harm the environment or society,” she said. “It’s the right of individuals to enact local laws protecting social and environmental health, safety and welfare.”
Several New Hampshire towns have enacted RBOs, according to Sanborn.
There’s also what she calls the “rights of nature.” She noted “ecosystems as entities have the right to exist and flourish.” A rights of nature ordinance changes the status of ecosystems from right-less to right-bearing, she said, and gives them legal standing to be protected from “unsustainable corporate exploitation.” A dozen Granite State communities are partnered with the CELDF to draft first-in-the-nation laws on the rights of nature.
Sanborn urged people living along the proposed pipeline to get organized, talk to their neighbors and decide what they want. Once a core group is formed, the CELDF is available to help it draft a rights-based ordinance, she said. It can then petition to have its local governing body adopt the RBO.
Mark Vallone, a lifelong Epping resident and intervenor for the project, urged his fellow residents to act quickly. “The awareness of what is going on is still low,” he told the group. “We need to get this into Town Meeting and generate more conversation.”
Resident Joe Perry said a local group has been formed to oppose the storage tank.
For more information, email Sanborn at email@example.com, visit www.celdf.org or www.nhcommunityrights.org.