hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News February - March 2020



Vermont towns offer ‘sanctuary’ for gun rights


Borrowing the language of cities that offer sanctuary to undocumented immigrants, some towns in southwestern Vermont are proclaiming themselves sanctuaries for gun rights.
As of late January, select boards in seven towns around the state had adopted resolutions declaring themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries, while voters in at least a dozen others were expected to take up sanctuary resolutions at their town meetings in March. Local towns that already have passed the resolutions include Pownal, Searsburg, Clarendon and Pittsford.
The Rutland Herald reported that members of Gun Owners of Vermont, a group that that describes itself as a “nonpartisan pro-gun organization committed to a no-compromise position on firearms ownership rights,” have been presenting the resolutions to town officials across the state.

Eric Davis, the group’s president, told the newspaper that the resolutions are purely symbolic and are aimed at getting the attention of legislators in Montpelier, who he said have been ignoring the concerns of gun owners.

In a state with a rich hunting tradition, Vermont legislators have long been reluctant to set limits on gun ownership. But the politics of gun control in Vermont shifted dramatically two years ago after a teenager was accused of plotting a mass shooting at his former high school in Fair Haven.
In light of that case, which was revealed soon after a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 people, Vermont passed a package of gun control measures that expanded background checks for gun buyers and barred most sales to buyers under 21. The 2018 law also banned large-capacity magazines and bump-fire stocks, which allow semi-automatic rifles to fire more rapidly.

This year the Legislature is considering additional gun-control measures, including one that would prohibit firearms possession by people who are accused of domestic abuse.
The Herald reported that the Pittsford Select Board unanimously passed its “Second Amendment sanctuary” resolution on Jan. 22, and Davis told the paper that Clarendon and Searsburg, along with the northern Vermont towns of Derby, Holland and Irasburg, had all passed similar resolutions as of late January.

The Bennington Banner reported that the Pownal Select Board also unanimously passed a sanctuary resolution that recognizes “inalienable rights” to keep and bear arms and declares any federal and state laws “attempting to restrict these rights to be infringements, hence null and void under this resolution.”

In other news from around the region in December and January:


Advocate sees local dumps for PCBs
A deal being negotiated in secret to clean up PCB pollution in the Housatonic River could lead to contaminated sediment being dumped in new landfills in the Berkshires, a local environmental advocate is warning.

The Berkshire Eagle reported that Tim Gray, executive director of the Housatonic River Initiative, told members of a local advisory panel in January that the deal being hammered out in closed-door mediation talks now includes local PCB dumps.

Gray, who has been a participant in the confidential mediation talks, said he might “get in trouble” for disclosing details of the discussions, but he argued that people in the Berkshires need to be involved in shaping the PCB cleanup plan.

General Electric Co., which dumped PCBs into the Housatonic from its Pittsfield plant for several decades until the chemicals were banned in the late 1970s, has been in mediation talks with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for nearly two years in an effort to work out a plan for removing PCB-contaminated sediment from a 10-mile stretch of the river south of Pittsfield.
In its original cleanup plan for the area, released in 2014, the EPA proposed having GE pay to remove tons of contaminated sediments from the river and to ship the material to an out-of-state waste facility. The EPA imposed a similar requirement for out-of-state disposal when it oversaw GE’s Superfund cleanup of PCB pollution in the upper Hudson River a decade ago.

But in 2018, a three-judge appeals panel asked the EPA to reconsider its requirement for out-of-state disposal of the Housatonic River PCB wastes. Mediation talks between GE, the EPA and other parties began shortly after that ruling.

-- Compiled by Fred Daley