Several hundred residents filled Acushnet's Ford Middle School Tuesday for a Special Town Meeting addressing two items related to a proposed natural gas pipeline and a liquid natural gas (LNG) storage facility. 

The Access Northeast Pipeline was proposed by Spectra Energy last year and includes a LNG storage facility to replace an existing one on Peckham Road in Acushnet.

Local opposition group South Coast Neighbors United petitioned the Board of Selectmen for a Special Town Meeting with an article directing the board to state their own opposition to the project and do everything in their power to prevent the expansion of the Acushnet storage facility.

The vote passed with an overwhelming majority, though it is non-binding according to Town Counsel.

Chairman Garry Rawcliffe didn't seem too surprised with the night's outcome.

"It was a petition by the anti-people, kinda went exactly how you would think it would go," Rawcliffe said, adding "there's a long ways to go."

The board has remained neutral to the project, citing a "wait and see" methodology as more official reports are submitted in the application process. So far, only two of the 13 required reports have been submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the governing body in control of the granting approval to the pipeline project.

SCNU member Roger Cabral believes that even though the vote of opposition is not legally binding, it will spread a message well beyond town lines.

"I think FERC will hear this statement, I think people outside of Acushnet will hear this statement, we're waiting for the Acushnet Board of Selectmen to start listening because they seem to be focused on other things, quite honestly," said Cabral.

Cabral raised questions during his public comment as to why there was little notification about Tuesday's Special Town Meeting, noting the lack of phone calls by the town.

Rawcliffe admitted the use of the reverse 911 system, which sends out town notifications by landline, is under his sole discretion and he chose not to use it, citing a savings of $900 to the town.

As for the second article addressed during the meeting, the addition of a by-law for a permitting process of an LNG storage facility passed unanimously.

The by-law subjects any storage tanks proposed with a storage capacity larger than 0.6 million cubic feet to additional permitting before being awarded an occupancy permit. This will include an independent evaluation of emergency response services at the cost of the proponent. They will also cover the costs of any additional personnel, equipment or training needed for the fire department determined by the evaluation.

Acushnet Fire Chief Kevin Gallagher explained the by-law as a way for local government to have some say in the matter, which is largely controlled by FERC and other federal regulators.

"We may not control whether or not an LNG project is built, but we argue that we do control whether or not the buildings require an occupancy permit from the local government," Gallagher said.

Gallagher also acknowledged that the town's fire department hasn't grown much since the current LNG storage facility was built in 1971 and questions if it would be able to accommodate a larger facility as it stands.

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