Rockingham to consider climate change resolution

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BELLOWS FALLS — Rockingham voters will get to weigh in this November on the issue of climate change — and what the state and town should be doing about it.

The Rockingham Select Board on Tuesday agreed to put the issue on the November ballot for the general election after receiving a petition with more than 200 signatures.

Organizer Guy Payne urged the Select Board to put the issue on the ballot for the voters to decide.

"With the heat wave this summer, there was not a problem getting the required signatures," Payne told the board.

Payne said he worked with fellow Rockingham resident Laurel Green on the petition drive. He said they started collecting signatures around the Fourth of July.

But with only three members of the Rockingham Select Board at the meeting, questions and criticism by one board member, Stefan Golec, almost derailed the petition drive, with Golec saying that he questioned the resolution's effect, and he criticized it for being too vague.

He said talk about carbon tax and a moratorium on new fossil fuel infrastructure made him and others worried about residents' ability to pay for their energy needs, such as heating their homes with heating oil.

The resolution, which Payne said came from the environmental organization 350.org, calls for the town and state to halt "any new or expanded fossil fuel infrastructure," such as transmission pipelines, electrical generation plants and industrial storage facilities. Vermont environmental activist Bill McKibben is a co-founder of the international environmental organization that is devoted to fighting climate change.

Golec said he was worried about the effect of the resolution on the town's relationship with Great River Hydro Inc., the owner of the network of hydroelectric dams on the Connecticut River. Golec noted the town had a good relationship with the new owners, and he pointed out the hydro dam at Bellows Falls pays for close to half of the town budget.

"I'm not comfortable with this," he said, saying it was "too broadly worded."

Bellows Falls Village President Deborah Wright, who regularly attends the Rockingham Select Board meetings, was the first name on the petition and she spoke in favor of the town taking a stand on an important issue.

Wright said the town had done little to make itself energy independent or efficient, and she said the resolution would be a good first step acknowledging the important issue.

"At least let us vote on it," Payne said, noting the town's planning commission was in the process of rewriting its energy chapter.

When it became clear that all three members of the board that were present had to vote in favor of putting it on the ballot, Select Board member Gaetano Putignano told Golec that by voting to accept the petition, the board was simply letting the voters make their own choice.

Part of the responsibility of the board was to make sure that average voters' voices are heard, Putignano said.

Golec himself finally made the motion and it passed unanimously with Golec, Putignano and Board Chairwoman Susan Hammond voting for it. Hammond said she looked forward to a discussion about the climate change issue before the vote.

After the meeting, Golec said he still had concerns. "There are other views out there," he said.

Payne said after the vote that if Golec had blocked the issue from going on the ballot, he would have returned to have the issue considered by a townwide vote, perhaps at Town Meeting.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or 802 254-2311, ext. 154.

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