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Plymouth residents take aim at Northern Pass with new ordinance

Union Leader Correspondent

January 31. 2018 11:07PM
Richard Hage speaks in favor of a community Rights-Based Ordinance that was the subject of a special town meeting in Plymouth on Wednesday. It was adopted by a vote of 132 to 19. (Bea Lewis/Union Leader Correspondent)

Plymouth residents display a sea of yellow voter cards when they soundly rejected efforts to amend a Community Rights-Based Ordinance during a special town meeting on Wednesday. The ordinance as originally proposed passed by a vote of 132 to 19. (Bea Lewis/Union Leader Correspondent)

PLYMOUTH — Residents have adopted an ordinance they believe will give them the authority to ban Northern Pass from building within town borders.

During a special town meeting on Thursday, residents voted by secret ballot 132 to 19 to adopt a Community Rights-Based Ordinance designed to strip legal power from corporate entities that seek to force unwanted activities on a town.

Richard Hage of Concerned Citizens of Plymouth, who helped spearhead the development of the ordinance, urged its adoption, telling townspeople to “invoke restorative justice to broken law.”

“It’s our next best shot at banning Northern Pass,” he said.

The $1.6 billion project to bring hydroelectric power from Quebec into New England has a 192-mile route through more than 30 communities; 60 miles of the transmission lines would be buried.

Northern Pass work along Plymouth’s Main Street could last over two construction seasons; dozens of businesses have expressed fears about financial losses during the construction.

The Site Evaluation Committee is currently considering whether to approve the project.

Henry Ahern, who raises red deer at his local farm, expressed his concern that if the Rights-Based Ordinance passed he would be forbidden to use bio-solids as fertilizer on his fields or precluded from planting certain seeds.

He proposed an amendment sun-setting the ordinance after eight years.

Chris Wood, who is also involved in agriculture, shared Ahern’s concerns, but said he would rather see the amendment exclude farmers than include a sunset provision.

Hage told voters the ordinance’s language on prohibitions “makes it clear we are trying to protect farmers, not attack them.”

The amendment was defeated.

Resident Frank Miller read from a copy of the New Hampshire Constitution, which he noted predates its federal counterpart. He said the ordinance mimics the document and its assertion that all men are free, sovereign and independent.

“It’s a function of self-determination, of how we are going to be,” he said.

David Moorhead said he opposes Northern Pass. He said plans to bury a stretch of the Northern Pass transmission line along Main Street would be the death knell for some businesses. But he also expressed concern that the ordinance would make the town subject to a lawsuit.

North Country lawyer Alan Baker told the New Hampshire Sunday News that as a general rule federal and state law take precedence over municipal ordinances and regulations when they are in conflict.

"I just think their methods of trying to effect global change at the municipal level by proposing local ordinances that conflict with state law won't work in practice," he said last week.

State Rep. Steve Rand, D-Plymouth, said he is one of six sponsors of a constitutional amendment that if passed “would not only make these types of ordinances OK, but desirable.”

If adopted, Rand said, the town would likely be sued. But he said a constitutional amendment “would provide an umbrella, making it immune from legal challenge.”

The ordinance became effective immediately and as written will apply to any and all actions that would violate it, “regardless of the date of any applicable local, state, or federal permit.”

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