Open meeting complaint postpones COG’s pipeline meeting
GREENFIELD — A planned regional meeting with proponents of a natural gas pipeline has been postponed following the filing of an Open Meeting Law complaint.
The meeting, which had been scheduled for Thursday evening at the John W. Olver Transit Center, was postponed after Northampton attorney Michael Pill, as an individual, filed a complaint with the state attorney general’s office alleging a violation of the state law that requires all meetings of public boards to be open to the public except under specific circumstances.
The meeting in question was a joint gathering of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments and its Franklin Regional Planning Board to discuss the pipeline proposed to cut through Franklin County.
Pill told The Recorder, “In my opinion, they are fairly flagrantly violating the state Open Meeting Law” by opening the meeting to only members of the two boards. He called limiting access, ostensibly because of space limitations in the transit center’s conference room “what amounts to a de facto executive session.”
The conference room, in which the boards typically meet separately, has a maximum capacity of 100, which is about the combined size of the two boards.
In his complaint, Pill quoted from The Recorder’s Monday news story, in which COG Executive Committee Chair Bill Perlman said, “Organizers of the meeting see it as purely informational, so they wanted to prevent the session from becoming a protest where people could attack company officials.”
While the COG and Planning Board also invited anyone interested in getting on a waiting list for any available seats to sign up in advance, with preference to be given to municipal officials from the nine Franklin County towns where Kinder Morgan’s proposed Tennessee Gas Pipeline Northeast Expansion is planned for construction.
“The law does not provide for imposing a requirement on a supposedly public meeting,” wrote Pill, who called for moving “the meeting to a location where it is genuinely a public meeting where all who seek admission can attend, or provide simultaneous electronic access so members of the public can see and hear what is said and done while it happens.”
COG Executive Director Linda Dunlavy, reached Tuesday afternoon, said she and Planning Director Peggy Sloan had simply been trying to deal with the reality that the conference room wasn’t large enough for everyone who would probably be interested in attending a meeting with Kinder Morgan representatives, but admitted that it would seemingly have violated the Open Meeting Law.
Dunlavy had arranged for Greenfield Community Television to videotape the meeting but said the station could not provide a live feed to another location to handle an overflow crowd. She said COG staff was trying Tuesday afternoon to arrange for an alternate location, but would have needed to do so immediately to meet the law’s 48-hour posting requirement.
Later in the afternoon, Dunlavy sent out a notice saying, “Given the limited time the FRCOG has to reschedule the meeting to a venue that has adequate space, we regret we must cancel the meeting. We will work with Kinder Morgan representatives to try and reschedule this meeting.”
Meanwhile, it appeared that a planned protest rally that had been scheduled to coincide with Thursday’s meeting has also been postponed.
Organizer Rosemary Wessel, notified of the plan to postpone the meeting, said, “We would need to move where the meeting is, I’m sure. And if we’re allowed to be in the room because of more space, as has happened with other meetings with (Kinder Morgan), great!”
The proposed 179-mile pipeline from Wright, N.Y., to Dracut, north of Lowell, would cross Ashfield, Conway, Shelburne, Deerfield, Montague, Erving, Northfield, Warwick and Orange.
You can reach Richie Davis at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269