Council continues to mull costs of LNG legal battle
Town Councilors Monday repeated their opposition to liquefied natural gas plans, but they again postponed making decisions about joining or funding a state legal action against a federally approved LNG proposal that would effect communities surrounding Narragansett Bay.
The councilors said they would not sign onto the state attorney general’s legal brief or memorandum seeking a review of the Federal Energy Regulation Commission approval for the Weaver’s Cove plan for Fall River, Mass., until the document is written. They were asked to approve the intended document that was not yet available. The councilors also said they needed to consider how to spend, and how much to spend of local taxpayers’ money on the LNG battle.
Attorney General Patrick Lynch assured the councilors earlier this month that there would be no financial cost to the town to join the state and other communities in the legal memo. However, town officials were advised that the state would put much pressure on the town to join in funding the legal battle. Some communities have pledged $25,000 each toward the legal action, with the state committed to paying most of the costs. Other towns, including Jamestown, are still considering making an appropriation.
The Jamestown Town Council has noted that it has $13,000 in an unspent account, originally intended to fight Quonset Point development, and available for a similar goal of protecting Narragansett Bay from undesirable development. The councilors have not decided, or given indication, whether they would use a part or all of the $13,000 for the LNG battle, or add town to other funds that are being sought by Lynch and other active opponents of the Weaver’s Cove LNG proposal. Some councilors said they want to consider a contribution to the work of the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission that has announced making some progress in some of its anti-LNG efforts.
Solicitor says Town Solicitor J. William W. Harsch told the council it would be reasonable to see at least a draft of the attorney general’s legal document. He said he expected the document to be available and was surprised that it did not yet exist. Harsch said that the state would file its brief regardless of Jamestown’s action or inaction. The LNG plans and anti-LNG efforts represent “a monster on the horizon” and the town needs to be prudent about any funds it would commit to the cause, he said.
Councilman William Kelly at first was ready to tentatively approve the legal brief. But Council President David Long said, “In theory we agree, but I do not want to pre-sign an unwritten document.” He was willing to “send a positive message” about the council’s intent, but wanted to read the document before giving full, formal approval, Long said.
Harsch pointed out that the town has already been co-operating fully, as evidenced by its recent submission of affidavits about emergency personnel, plans and concerns, as requested by Lynch’s staff. Long asked Harsch, “What do we do?” The council should direct Town Solicitor Lauriston Parks, as the town’s lawyer on the LNG issue, to continue his pursuits of reviewing a document, and to defer council action until Parks gives a report and recommendation about the written brief, Harsch said.
Councilman Michael Schnack said the council should emphasize its clear opposition to the LNG plans even as it awaits a written memo on which to act.
Councilor Barbara Szepatowski said she agreed about waiting, both to act on the legal memo and on an appropriation of funds, but she also wanted to make sure all possible actions were being pursued. She added, “As a one-time hippie, which may be dating myself, what about passive resistance. It can go a long way. What would happen if we don’t have the police they say are needed for security?”
Harsch said that “no federal requirements or mandates are in place about police involvement. They are working to co-ordinate response groups. This does not supercede the role of the town. As this develops, there may be requirements and regulations.”
Kenneth Littman, an attorney and president of the previous council, who led the town as a frontrunner in LNG opposition, spoke at the open forum to urge the council to make a financial commitment. He pointed out that the town is already on record in two resolutions as being opposed the LNG proposals for both Providence and Fall River. He said the next step is making a financial commitment.
Long said, “Your opinion is very welcomed.”