Democracy Lesson in Shrewsbury

The momentum is growing against natural gas pipelines, and against making consumers pay for them. 

Town Meetings in Grafton, Norfolk and Shrewsbury recently voted against hosting the West Boylston Lateral, a 27-mile, 16-inch, high-pressure, fracked gas pipeline, running from Medway to West Boylston. 

 Anti-pipeline advocate Steve Fishman demonstrating the size difference between an average residential distribution pipeline versus the proposed 16" high pressure transmission pipeline. 

Anti-pipeline advocate Steve Fishman demonstrating the size difference between an average residential distribution pipeline versus the proposed 16" high pressure transmission pipeline. 

The towns don’t want it, they don’t need it and they can’t afford it. And they apparently aren’t going to take it, at least not without a fight.  

I attended the Shrewsbury Town Meeting recently -- an inspiring lesson in small town, New England- style democracy. I wish my kids had been there.  I wish every kid in Shrewsbury and in Massachusetts had been there.

Despite strong opposition from the town’s leadership, including its Finance Committee, its Selectmen, and its Administrator, Town Meeting Members, led by a small group of political newcomers, stood up, tall and determined, voting against the pipeline: 120-91.  

 Townhall in Shrewsbury ended with a standing vote, with opponents of the pipeline being heard loud and clear. 

Townhall in Shrewsbury ended with a standing vote, with opponents of the pipeline being heard loud and clear. 

A moment earlier, a voice vote had been ruled as having gone in favor of the pipeline, but anti-pipeline forces immediately called for a standing vote.  When a convincing majority stood up against the pipeline, in defiance of the Town’s pro-pipeline leadership, it was a triumphant and dramatic moment for the democratic process.   It was also a victory for consumers, the environment and the town. Watch the video here. 

The big mystery is this: why would the Shrewsbury Selectman and Finance committees favor a gas pipeline running through their small town, adjacent to their “jewel-in-the-crown” High School, and directly under an aquifer that supplies drinking water for many residents?  Why agree to having “incineration zones,” and “evacuation zones,” in town, along with the administrative burden that the pipeline will require?

The anti-pipeline forces have pointed out, over and over, that the only benefit to Shrewsbury, would be an annual tax payment of $25,000 a year. That’s peanuts compared to the disruption, the additional administrative costs, and the damages that could occur in the event of a problem.

Most residents, and the town’s leadership, remember the gas explosion that occurred in the town a few years ago. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but the damage was considerable.

 Gas pipe explosion on 15 Colonial Drive, Shrewsbury, December 27, 2013. 

Gas pipe explosion on 15 Colonial Drive, Shrewsbury, December 27, 2013. 

For those of us who care deeply about a clean energy future in Massachusetts, and about the rights of our towns to control their fates, this fight is important. Prior to the Town Meeting, the Town Administrator had given the pipeline developers permission to go onto town-owned land, to conduct a land survey to prepare the way for the pipeline. The pipeline fighters want to get that permission rescinded, now that the Town Meeting has said “no pipeline.”.

Forget Game of Thrones.  Stay tuned to Shrewsbury, and this blog, for further episodes.