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Community Rights Group Appeals to N.H. Supreme Court In Bid to Defend Nottingham Ordinance

Annie Ropeik

An environmental group in Nottingham is appealing to the New Hampshire Supreme Court to try to get involved in an ongoing legal battle over community rights. 

The Nottingham Water Association wants to intervene in a Superior Court challenge to the town's "freedom from chemical trespass" ordinance, which asserts residents’ rights to a healthy environment and seeks to fine businesses that pollute it. 

The ordinance aligns with a proposed state constitutional amendment that aims to force developers, such as those pursuing local energy or water projects, to compromise more with neighbors or take them on in court. 

After the Nottingham ordinance passed last year, a local business owner sued the town, arguing the rule is unenforceable and infringes on his rights.

There's no ruling in that case yet, but a Superior Court judge did tell the local activist group that they couldn’t join the case to defend the law alongside the town.

The group says they want to intervene because the town has not actively defended the ordinance in its court filings. The court order denying that request equates the town’s oversight of the issue to the state’s oversight of local governments.

“They’re making the assumption that the municipality speaks for the residents, and the residents are saying no, they don’t,” says Michelle Sanborn, the New England organizer with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which supports groups like Nottingham's. 

The Nottingham Water Association is appealing the denial of their petition to intervene to the state Supreme Court, which has not said if it’ll take the case. Sanborn says they still have the option to file an amicus brief, but the court would not be required to consider it. 

Sanborn says one goal of her movement’s proposed constitutional amendment is to give residents a legal voice beyond their local government’s representation in cases like this.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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