2011-02-17 / Front Page

Second Congress of Councils closed to public and press

By Geoff Campbell

The second Congress of Councils, an ongoing effort to oppose the Weaver’s Cove Energy LNG project, took place yesterday in Fall River, Mass. The event was closed to members of the press.

At the Feb. 9 meeting of the Jamestown LNG Threat Committee, committee member Richard Lynn said that the event would be a closed, invitation-only meeting.

Lynn explained that the meeting on Feb. 16 was being held by Steve Torres, corporation counsel for Fall River, on behalf of the city. According to Lynn, Torres said that if the Hess Corporation, which owns Weaver’s Cove, were to allow him to attend its board meetings, he might think about changing that.

In a follow-up interview, Torres explained that the congress was by invitation only and that Hess was not invited. He added that Hess attends all of their meetings and he “takes it as a personal affront.”

“I’m tired of it,” Torres said. He mentioned that Hess practices “bullying” and attempts to “antagonize and intimidate.”

He explained that he is not permitted into Hess’ boardroom. He also acknowledged that the absence of Hess would impact the press, and he said that he regrets that.

Torres added that press statements would be provided following the meeting. Because this session of the Congress of Councils was held in Massachusetts – the first was held in Jamestown in September – it could be treated as an organizational gathering, not a meeting of government bodies. The purpose was to “discuss status, strategy and planning.”

According to Lynn, Massachusetts’ open-meeting laws permit invitation-only meetings. Lynn emphasized that Rhode Island representatives were only guests and did not conduct Rhode Island business. Members of the press, as such, were not invited to report on the meeting.

Lynn explained that the chief focus of the Congress of Councils was to gather town councils, town managers and town solicitors to address the LNG threat. He added that the Congress of Councils was the brainchild of Jamestown Town Councilor Bob Bowen with the intent to garner support from community and local politicians to oppose Hess’ plan to build a floating LNG terminal in Mt. Hope Bay. If built, LNG supertankers would ultimately become regular commuters on Narragansett Bay.

Threat committee Chairman Dan Wright reminded the group that in spite of the invitation-only nature of the event, it would not be an opportunity to openly discuss business between the councils.

Committee member Peter Converse reported that he had attempted to get on the agenda of Narragansett’s most recent Town Council meeting, in order to issue a personal invitation, but the timing of his request prevented it.

Narragansett Town Manager Ann Irons told Converse that she would speak to the council as a reminder and Converse noted that Irons “kind of discouraged me” from attending and speaking during the public forum portion of the meeting.

Subsequent to Narragansett’s Town Council meeting and according to correspondence sent to the threat committee from Jamestown Town Clerk Cheryl Fernstrom, no one from Narragansett Town Council was present at the Feb. 16 congress.

The committee speculated as to the reason for Narragansett’s lack of representation, including the distance to Fall River and a calendar conflict. There appeared to be no doubt that Narragansett council members opposed the Weaver’s Cove project.

Portsmouth, Newport, and Middletown were among neighboring towns and cities that have committed to sending town council representation.

According to Lynn, presenters included Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, Fall River Mayor William Flanagan, and Massachusetts Rep. David Sullivan. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s office reportedly held a video presentation. Executive directors Jonathan Stone of Save the Bay and Evan Smith of the Newport County Bureau of Tourism rounded out the program. Lynn said he would likely close the session.

According to Lynn, invitations were sent to the governor’s offices of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, as well as to all state representatives, senators and state officials from appropriate agencies.

Calls to the governor and lieutenant governor of Rhode Island indicated that neither official had intentions of attending the congress.

Lynn pointed out that tomorrow evening would be the only time that would be convenient for both in-session state representatives and town councilors, but ultimately a time was chosen based on the availability of town council members.

Following the congress, there was a showing of “Gasland,” a critical exploration of the natural gas industry’s practice of fracturing shale rock to extract gas deposits. The movie presentation was shown at the Jane Pickens Theater in Newport.

The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary and was the winner of the 2010 Sundance Festival’s Special Jury Prize. The film’s producer, Josh Fox, joined Lynn and others on a panel following the movie. Lynn noted that Hess Corporation employees purchased seven tickets to the movie.

Wright noted that several Jamestown Town Council members, including Bob Bowen, Mike Schnack and Ellen Windsor, represented Jamestown at the Congress of Councils.

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