The East Farmington Town board met in person May 4 for their regularly scheduled monthly meeting.
Among the topics discussed was an update on ordinance changes relating to the expansion of the North Forty Resources mine, as well as the mining moratorium that currently extends through the end of June. The board recently received a new draft of the ordinance and decided further discussion with their lawyers was needed in order to fully understand the 25-page document.
“Right now there’s a lot of questions I have, and a lot of it is legal jargon I guess I don’t understand,” said supervisor Rick McGuiggan. “I’d like to have the lawyer sit down and go through it, then bring it to open hearing or whatever we have to do next.”
The board tentatively scheduled a meeting with their lawyers for before the end of May, but did not set a specific date.
“We have a draft and we have a subcommittee report,” McGuiggan said. “We just have to get it to mesh all together.”
That meeting would legally be open to the public, and the board drew criticism for potentially scheduling a meeting that could draw a large crowd during the current pandemic situation.
“You realize there are probably several dozen people would be interested in that meeting,” a concerned resident said.
Board treasurer Debbie Swanson was flippantly dismissive of these concerns and implied it’s not the board’s responsibility to ensure people feel safe.
“Well, they’re just going to have to figure out a way to be six feet apart,” she said. “We have a right to have a meeting. You can observe if you want but that’s at your own risk.”
The board is one of very few local municipalities that has continued to meet in person during the pandemic with no teleconference option. The Centers for Disease Control currently recommends canceling any gatherings of more than 10 people for areas with minimal-to-moderate community transmission. There were 17 people in attendance Monday night, with some practicing social distancing and a small number of people wearing masks.
Some in attendance said they believe concern about the virus will remain prevalent, even after safer-at-home orders are withdrawn.
A public hearing on the mine’s expansion is sure to draw a large crowd, and this could keep some concerned residents from attending for fear of their own personal health.
“There’s so many people that are concerned about this virus,” said Osceola resident Holly Walsh. “And to have a public hearing and tell people to come at their own risk is really not fair due process.”
She continued to say she thinks the virus would keep people from attending well into the summer.
“I think it will prohibit people from really participating and showing up until we’re through this pandemic,” she said. “Until the experts actually tell us it’s ok to be out in public and in congregate settings where there is more than ten people.”
She said the virus won’t magically stop being a concern when the safer-at-home order is lifted, and that the board should be sensitive to that.
“Truly if we’re listening to the experts on this, we’re going to be in this for months,” she said. “Not another month but probably six or nine months. People are going to continue to die of this virus. It’s very serious, we don’t have a vaccine yet and until people start waking up to the seriousness of this, more and more people are going to die.”
Walsh said she believes a public hearing should be postponed indefinitely.
“To have a public hearing in a state where so many people are at risk is ridiculous,” she said. “It’s truly an outrage and the moratorium should be extended until we’re out of the woods.”