Judge Orders Public Service Board to Allow Public at Pipeline Hearing | Off Message

Judge Orders Public Service Board to Allow Public at Pipeline Hearing

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A crowded meeting on the Vermont Gas pipeline project at Shoreham Elementary School in 2014 - FILE: CALEB KENNA
  • File: Caleb Kenna
  • A crowded meeting on the Vermont Gas pipeline project at Shoreham Elementary School in 2014
Federal Judge Christina Reiss has ordered the Public Service Board to open its upcoming hearing on the Vermont Gas Systems pipeline to the public.

In a move observers called unprecedented, the PSB announced last month that the public would not be allowed to attend its session Thursday on Vermont Gas’ eminent domain hearing, meant to enable construction of its pipeline through Geprags Community Park in Hinesburg. Opponents of the natural gas pipeline have repeatedly disrupted earlier hearings.

The PSB later clarified that members of the media could attend, and it planned to live-stream the event.

But on Monday, Reiss ruled in favor of Lisa Barrett, a retired attorney who took the PSB to court in an effort to open the hearing. 

Noting that the public has a presumptive right to attend the hearing under the First Amendment, Reiss concluded: “Although the Board has articulated important interests that may be jeopardized if the August 4, 2016 hearing is disrupted, the risk of disruption is outweighed by the certainty that the public’s right of access will be severely hampered by a complete prohibition on public attendance.”

Reiss did not grant Barrett’s request to compel the PSB to move its hearing to a venue that could accommodate more people. The hearing is being held at 190 Junction Road in Berlin in a room that can hold 48 people.

The PSB had made the case that protests could interfere with the “due process rights of the parties to a fair and orderly opportunity to present and test their respective evidence.”

People have suggested that rather than barring all members of the public, the PSB could ask law enforcement to remove anyone disrupting the proceedings. Reiss noted that the PSB has not employed this strategy, and concluded, “In order for this near total closure to be warranted, the Board must demonstrate that it adequately considered less restrictive alternatives.”

Read the order here:




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