Vermont Gas, Public Service Department Recommend Open Hearings, With Restrictions

Mar 31, 2016

The Department of Public Service and Vermont Gas Systems are calling on the Public Service Board to take action to prevent protestors from disrupting board proceedings, according to filings with the board Thursday.

Both the department and Vermont Gas recommended measures that would allow members of the public to observe board proceedings as long as they did so without interfering with the proceedings.

The recommendations were a response to an earlier order by the board seeking input on how to deal with disruptive people at hearings. The board asked the parties involved in a set of eminent domain hearings related to the Vermont Gas pipeline to consider how to prevent disruptions, including the idea of barring the public all together.

The Department of Public Service recommended a relatively simple method: have police on hand to remove protesters if they disrupt the hearings.

“Peaceful observation of board proceedings by the public should be encouraged and the department fully supports their continued presence in the hearing room,” the department filing said.

The department’s support doesn’t extend to people trying to interrupt the proceedings, however.

"Anyone engaging in disorderly conduct which disrupts the proceedings should be removed from the Hearing Room." - Department of Public Service

“Disruptive behavior should not be tolerated,” the department told the board. “Anyone engaging in disorderly conduct which disrupts the proceedings should be removed from the hearing room. To that end, law enforcement personnel should be present and empowered to enforce the law and keep the peace. This is our preferred option.”

Vermont Gas suggested alternatives that would make it difficult or impossible for members of the public to interrupt the proceedings, but would still allow the public to observe. The company provided four recommendations:

  • Hold hearings by phone and allow the public to dial in to listen
  • Warn the public that certain behaviors will not be tolerated in the hearing room
  • Hold hearings in an alternate venue that could allow observers to follow the proceedings from a separate room
  • Allow members of the public to view hearings on closed circuit television from the hearing room while the hearing takes place in a different room

James Dumont, an attorney representing some landowners in the proceedings, warned that barring the public from hearings might be unconstitutional. The only other comment in response to the board’s request for input was from the lawyer for a landowner, L. Selina Peyser, who did not provide specific recommendations because she “does not believe it would be appropriate for her to advise the board on how to go about achieving these legal and procedural mandates.”

The board will now consider the input and may impose some restrictions the prevent disruption at future hearings.