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Juliana Haubrich, right, explains the meaning of the new official Williamstown town flag before handing it off to state Sen. Benjamin Downing and state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi to hang in the State House.
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Selectwoman Anne O'Connor makes a point about joining the NEES anti-pipeline coalition. O'Connor and Ron Turbin, also pictured here, supported joining NEES on Monday.

Williamstown Wants More Info Before Joining Anti-Pipeline Coalition

By Rebecca DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Tad Ames, president of Berkshire Natural Resources Council, talks to the Williamstown Board of Selectmen on Monday about joining Northeast Energy Solutions, an anti-pipeline coalition.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen on Monday opted to gather more information about the pros and cons of joining an anti-gas pipeline group before making a decision on whether to actually join.

The vote to seek a conference call with Northeast Energy Solution's lawyer came after an hour of discussion prompted by a presentation by Tad Ames, president of Berkshire Natural Resources Council.

Ames came before the board to ask that Williamstown join NEES, a coalition of nonprofit environmental organizations and other stakeholders that was formed in response to the proposed Kinder Morgan high-pressure natural gas pipeline that would run through the Berkshires. 

The pipe's current route would take it through Hancock, Lanesborough, Cheshire, Dalton and Windsor.

Ames' invitation to join came on the heels of a decision by the town of Lenox to join NEES as well as the unanimous approval of a voters at Williamstown's annual town meeting last month of a resolution opposing the pipeline. Having municipalities on board could help NEES in its efforts to gain full intervenor status in upcoming Department of Public Utilities hearings, Ames said; right now, NEES has been granted only partial intervenor status.

"Our goal is not to beat Berkshire Gas around the head or anything, but is to present credible, professional information both on delivery of gas services, economics and environmental issues that may allow the regulators at DPU and ultimately at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to have a more objective broad-based view of the applicant's pleadings," Ames said.

Ames was careful in his description of NEES' mission, explaining that while NEES doesn't support this pipeline proposal, the group aims to look at all energy solutions in a comprehensive manner.

"We formed this group because we think this pipeline is very problematic for the Berkshires and for Massachusetts," he said. "We're not taking a position of anti-gas, or 'No Fracked Gas in Mass,' any of those. Because as component members of NEES, that's just not the kind of political activism and advocacy we get into as organizations."

Two of the five selectmen — Ronald Turbin and newly elected Anne O'Connor — were in favor of making the decision Monday to join the NEES coalition.

"It's clear we have a mandate from the town at town meeting ... to oppose the pipeline," Turbin said. "To have the support of Lenox, and now to have the support of Williamstown, will give them a lot more clout.

"I think it's the right thing to do."

O'Connor echoed the sentiment that joining NEES is a natural step after the town meeting vote.

"I think what it does do is send a signal to our townspeople that we heard them," she said.

O'Connor went as far as to make a motion that the town join NEES; the motion was seconded by Turbin. However, after more discussion, O'Connor withdrew her motion, deferring to the other three selectmen's request to not make a decision until a conference call with NEES' attorney could be arranged to gather more information about the town's potential role in the coalition.

"I haven't seen anything yet that tells me what the presence of Williamstown in this proceeding will make in terms of a difference," Selectman Andrew Hogeland said. "I'd be cautious about doing anything until we have learned a lot more about what's involved."

Chairwoman Jane Patton stressed that putting off this decision does not mean the town doesn't support NEES' work in opposing the pipeline.

"This is not a vote against," she said. "I am loathe to sign up for something when I can't know exactly what I'm signing up for."

Hogeland and O'Connor agreed to participate in the call with NEES' lawyer and report back to the board at its next meeting.

In other news, Turbin reported back to the board that Town Counsel Joel Bard had recommended the town send a letter to the attorney general's office in response to a letter sent to the AG by Cumberland Farms taking issue with the plastic bag bylaw that was passed at town meeting.

"Offhand, he said yes, he would recommend a letter in response be sent," Turbin said. "The letter would argue the validity of the bylaw."

The selectmen, however, were reluctant to spend town money authorizing the drafting of a letter that would probably have little meaning to the attorney general's office as it investigates the bylaw and Cumberland Farms' complaint, which focuses on one aspect of the new bylaw and is "somewhat specious," as Turbin said Bard had characterized it.

"The attorney general, I can't see them being pushed around all that much by one argument or another," O'Connor said. "They know their business."

Selectman Hugh Daley said he opposed spending taxpayer money on responding to the complaint, especially since any negative impact of not going on record opposing the complaint would be negligible.

"The downside risk is that for a period of time that one section would be invalid until repaired, assuming the town wants it repaired, at town meeting, so four to six months, maximum," Daley said.

Turbin, a lawyer by trade, said he supported a letter and motioned the town approve Bard to compose a letter. The motion was not seconded and therefore died on the floor.

Also in Monday's meeting, the Selectmen presented the new town flag to state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, and state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, who will take the flag to Boston to hang in the Hall of Flags at the State House.

"You'll get a photo and then we'll be able to map it out, because it is kind of daunting when you get into that room now, to see just how many of them are up there," said Downing, who said now all but five towns in his district have official flags hanging in Boston.

Monday's meeting also gave the board a chance to recognize Council on Aging Director Brian O'Grady, who recently was named Director of the Year by the Massachusetts Association of Councils on Aging.

The board will meet twice more this week as part of its efforts to hire a new town manager.

On Thursday from 5:30 to 7 p.m., there will be a public social hour at the Williams Inn for the two finalists for the position. At that event, members of the public will have a chance to interact with candidates Jason Hoch and Angus Jennings.

On Friday, the board will conduct extensive interviews with each candidate starting at 9 a.m., with an eye toward making a decision between the two as soon as Friday afternoon.

Tags: energy,   gas pipeline,   town administrator,   town flag,   

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Williamstown Committee Begins Review of Town Charter

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town's first Charter Review Committee began its work on Thursday with a reminder of what its mission is and, as importantly, what it is not.
"The only thing I want to make us conscious of is part of the charge says we don't want to become a discussion ground for current social issues," Select Board member Andy Hogeland told the group at its morning meeting at Town Hall. "Things may come in the door about sustainability or equity. That's not what the Select Board wants us to be looking at.
"We want to check over the engine of government. It will be the vehicle through which people can make changes. If those issues come up, we'll refer them to the Comprehensive Plan Committee or the DIRE Committee."
Actually, as the Charter Review Committee noted on Thursday, the charter is just one of the engines that drives town government. Other forces include town bylaws, votes of town meeting and, of course, Massachusetts General Law, which sometimes compels or overrides actions at the local level.
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