Benefit to community should be a priority

To the Editor:

On the evening of Monday, May 22, I attended a Keene city Planning Board meeting that considered an application from Liberty Utilities to construct a temporary site for transferring Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), a high-pressure fuel composed mostly of methane.

The application was judged on its merits according to the following 19 standards: Drainage, Sedimentation and Erosion Control, Hillside Protection, Snow Storage, Flooding, Landscaping, Noise, Screening, Air Quality, Lighting, Sewer and Water, Traffic, Comprehensive Access Management, Hazardous and Toxic Materials, Filling/Excavation, Wetlands, Surface Waters, Stump Dumps, Architectural and Visual Appearance.

Comments were made by several members of the public focused on the issues of allowing an investment in fossil fuel infrastructure, air quality concerns, pipeline and transfer accident concerns, and concerns about creating an entry path for a major utility in New Hampshire that would likely result in the proposal of more infrastructure investments, including CNG pipelines.

The Planning Board, mayor and chair repeatedly explained to public commenters that if the application met the 19 standards listed above, it did not matter if the application was for a single-family home or for a multimillion-dollar project – the board would approve the application.

Keene, and perhaps every town or city planning board in New Hampshire (if not the entire country), needs to consider adding another standard – a standard I would call “Benefit to the Community.” This standard would empower the board with discretionary authority to determine if the person, business or corporation proposing a project would offer significant benefit to the community, and this standard would have to be met in order for approval to proceed.

The Keene Planning Board’s hands are currently tied. Under current law, they are not allowed to apply either common sense or conscience to the application process. Whenever law transcends conscience, it becomes the opposite of what it is intended to be. Instead of protecting the people, it becomes a shield that those who seek profit can employ to their benefit.

I urge the residents of Keene, and other towns and cities everywhere, to amend their planning board law to include a community benefit standard.

Chris Balch

Wilton

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