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Public Service Board considers barring public from Vermont Gas eminent domain hearings

Fracking-Protest-sign
Photo by C.B. Hall/VTDigger Protesters against a Vermont Gas natural gas pipeline hold a banner in front of the building that houses the Department of Public Service and Public Service Board on Montpelier’s State Street.

By Mike Polhamus

For Vermont Digger

The Vermont Public Service Board is considering whether to bar the public from attending eminent domain hearings for a controversial gas pipeline.

Protesters have interrupted eminent domain proceedings, the March 17 court order says, “by shouting, singing loudly, and leaving their seats to crowd the physical space around many of the parties and the court reporter.”

Law enforcement officials have expressed doubt over whether they can prevent protesters from disrupting future hearings.

The board asked participants in the Vermont Gas Systems hearings for comment by March 31. It’s request for comment was issued in part out of concern for the safety of participants and others who may be in attendance at the hearings.

Jim Dumont, an attorney for several of the private landowners, wrote in a response to the board’s order that it is wrong for the board to treat peaceful protesters as a threat to public safety.

“One may disagree with the protesters’ views on the efficacy or style of their protests, but I think it ill serves reasonable public debate about this terribly important subject to suggest that their actions have been tainted by threats of violence,” Dumont wrote.

Dumont told the board to do whatever they consider necessary to maintain order during the proceedings, but said it would be inappropriate to exclude the public. That would go against the First Amendment, the Vermont Constitution and Vermont’s open meetings laws, he said.

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