GROTON -- Growing controversy over a little-known plan to construct a gas main from Dracut through area towns, including Groton, reared its head at a meeting of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee when members voted to instruct the administration to keep them informed of any new developments.
School Committee member Leslie Lathrop brought the issue up at the group's meeting of May 28 after she learned that a portion of the pipeline would likely run through property at the high school.
When asked if the administration had known about the proposal, interim superintendent Anthony Bent said it had but he did not think it was anything worthy of bringing to the committee's attention and apologized for not doing so.
The project is being promoted by Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, which intends to run a new 36-inch high pressure main from Dracut through Groton and beyond to supply area towns and other communities in central Massachusetts with natural gas.
In Groton, the proposed pipeline would run across portions of land owned by the Conservation Commission, Conservation Trust, beneath the Nashua River, over numerous private parcels, and the Groton-Dunstable Regional High School.
Along the full length of the buried pipeline, a 50-foot-wide corridor would be permanently clear cut for access.
Although some residents in the affected towns have come out against the plan on grounds of damage to the environment due to laying the pipeline or the gas being produced by "fracking," others feared for the sanctity of private property.
Similar concerns were raised by Lathrop, who asked for a pair of votes requiring the administration to keep the School Committee informed about any future contact by Kinder Morgan with the district and to deny cooperation with any requests made by the company such as visiting school property or doing any surveying.
Although fellow committee members acceded to the first vote, they stopped short of endorsing the second.
New Dunstable representative Stephanie Cronin said she was uncomfortable with a blanket denial of cooperation without knowing more about the project while committee member Thomas Steinfeld suggested that a vote wait on a public meeting on the subject to be held the next day.
Cronin and Steinfeld were joined in wariness by newly elected Vice Chairman John Giger, who said it would "not be wise" to vote on noncooperation without more information.
Also at the same meeting, committee members heard from high-school juniors Rebecca Roberts and Sage Mastakouras on a plan to introduce solar panels to the school's energy profile with the potential of saving the district thousands of dollars on electricity.
Roberts and Mastakouras, both members of the high school's Environmental Club, said that installing solar panels on the roof of the school would be "good for the environment and economically efficient."
Doing a little research, the students discovered a company called Solar City, which would install and maintain solar panels for the school at no charge.
Impressed with the students' presentation, committee members encouraged them to continue looking into the solar-energy option, recommending that they check out other providers for the best deal and to talk with representatives at the Groton Electric Light Department about feasibility and comparative costs.
The School Committee also heard from Groton-Dunstable Education Association (GDEA) member Clare O'Neill, a fifth-grade teacher in the district.
O'Neill read to the committee from a prepared statement expressing the GDEA's displeasure with talk of privatizing cafeteria and maintenance duties in the district and eliminating the position of human resources director.
The changes would be made as part of the district's attempt to save money following an imbalance in its books that left the schools short by millions of dollars in fiscal 2015.
In its statement, the GDEA characterized the cuts as "potentially damaging to the district," seeing them as "not working," and asking to be involved in any future discussions related to them.
Not being part of that night's agenda, the School Committee listened to the grievances but made no comment on them.