Only time will tell whether it will be a Better Future for Marion.
The volunteer-led organization that campaigns against fossil fuels was granted a conditional parade permit by the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday night pending approval by the Fire Department. The faith-based group, formally known as the Better Future Project, plans to stop and spend the night in Marion during its Energy Exodus: March From Coal to Cape Wind event that begins later this month.
Ben Thompson, a representative from the Better Future Project, estimated his group’s participation in Energy Exodus at 100 to 300 people. The march is slated to begin at the Brayton Point coal plant in Somerset on August 28 and end in Barnstable on September 2. Thompson said the group will stay overnight at St. Gabriel’s Church – both inside and on the grounds – while in Marion, which drew concern from the Selectmen, as well as Police Chief Lincoln Miller, particularly when Thompson admitted he has never actually seen the venue.
“You might want to take a look while you’re in town tonight,” Selectman Steve Cushing said. “It’s very small. There is very limited space in the courtyard.”
Chairman Jody Dickerson agreed.
“I have no problem with the parade and march in Marion,” he said. “But the church is not designed for sleeping quarters. We just want to make sure everyone is safe.”
Thompson said that organizers could make the decision to shuttle overflow crowds to churches in New Bedford via 12-passenger vans, but both Miller and the Selectmen lamented the potential problems such a last-minute decision could pose.
“This could be the makings of a disaster, if there is a fire or something like it,” said Selectman John Henry, who pushed for an around-the-clock Fire Department presence. “We have a responsibility to the residents of our town.”
The officials insisted on improved communication from the Better Future Project, and approved the permit provided Fire Chief Thomas Joyce can work with organizers on a plan.
Elsewhere on the agenda, the Selectmen approved:
Catherine Brodeur’s request for a three-year extension on her agriculture license;
Two one-day all-alcohol licenses for the VFW for upcoming parties on August 25 and September 1;
Employment contracts for the Police Chief and Collector/Treasurer.
In addition, Town Administrator Paul Dawson addressed the Old Rochester Regional School District budget, which because of the disparity between expected and actual state funds, will require increased appropriations from Marion and Mattapoisett. Marion’s tab will come to roughly an additional $18,000.
Dawson said that officials have planned a “budget summit” for the early fall, to take place among Town Administrators and Finance Committee members from the Tri-Town, as well as Superintendent Doug White.
“It’s a chance to think about, to talk about, the process that we’re going to use next year,” Dawson said. “An open dialogue helping us to see each other’s issues and where each other is coming from.”
Cushing called the additional $18,000 “not a painless hit,” while Dickerson said he wished the ORR administration had listened to Marion’s Finance Committee, which advised the school district to not use the more optimistic budget figures.
Henry, for his part, said it was “reason number 900 to consolidate,” as public safety and education issues should not “pit the three towns against each other.”
By Shawn Badgley