Bar Harbor Town Council Continues To Explore Climate Concerns Lawsuit

Councilors also enter executive sessions to discuss contracts and a personnel issue

BAR HARBOR—The Bar Harbor Town Council will continue to consider a potential lawsuit against big oil after a report from the Center for Climate Integrity.

“Climate change is causing more intense story,” Councilor Gary Friedmann said. More intense rainfall and droughts happen though the amount of rain remains the same. Though a person might not think Bar Harbor is on the frontlines of climate change, climate change has significant impact on the town’s budget, he said.

Three-foot washouts existed for miles on the carriage roads on Sargent Mountain after a five-inch rain last year, he said.

Councilor Matthew Hochman mentioned that climate change’s effects have already occurred, citing the breakwater in Bar Harbor which no longer sits above sea level as an example. The repairs for that are being covered by the federal government, but not all impacts will be.

“Why should the tax payers of Bar Harbor be on the hook for something that’s not really of our making,” Friedmann said. He likened the potential lawsuit to the tobacco suit settlement

Representatives for the Center for Climate Integrity were at the meeting and said that the science is crystal clear and not all are equally to blame for the climate emergency that the world is in. Internal memos of fossil fuel companies talk about floods and air temperature rises and increasing famine and food insecurity, which shows that the companies knew of the damage of fossil fuels, they said.

Bar Harbor would be the smallest community to file suit, they said. Any community, they said, “regardless of size or wealth can seek justice for the harms perpetrated against them by big oil.”

There would be no cost for attorney fees nor litigation costs to the municipalities unless there was a successful settlement, but there are transactional costs for the staff involved in the suit.

Goldthwait said she was leery of sending Town Manager Kevin Sutherland off to investigate this given how busy the council already is.

“It’s hard to picture being able to take this on,” Goldthwait said.

A new sustainability coordinator just started working for the town on September 6, the same day of the meeting. Peacock suggested sitting with it a bit, checking in with each councilor and then talking to the new climate coordinator about next steps. Friedman suggested also checking with other towns on the island and seeing what they are doing or might like to do.

The sustainability coordinator’s responsibilities include focusing on Bar Harbor’s environmental concerns and local initiatives under the council’s direction.

Hochman asked if the litigation proves successful what is the likelihood that the town sees funds from that litigation.

The representatives believed the municipalities would have some control of any funds received.

Hochman asked if any of the current suits the organization is shepherding had come to closure. They have not.

The request is for the town to sue Exxon as its own unique lawsuit and complaint. It would not be joining any suits in progress, but would be undertaking the suit itself.

“The communities that are going to be on the front line of climate change are coastal communities,” Friedmann said. “The benefit of us considering this would not only be taking a leadership position,” he said, and it would encourage other communities to do so, similar to Bar Harbor’s lead position in the plastic bag ban.

“Tremont is the town on the island that’s going to be slammed with sea level rise,” he said, and Bar Harbor could start a wave with other communities as part of a coordinated effort.

Image courtesy of Center for Climate Integrity

Executive Sessions

The council also entered into two executive sessions during its September 6 meeting. The first was to negotiate union contracts for the Bar Harbor Public Works Department. The second concerned Annlinn Kruger’s claim that Sutherland threatened to have her arrested for writing on the town’s sidewalk. The Mount Desert Islander ran a detailed story about that incident and Kruger’s statement that she had her phone taken from her (she eventually got it back) by a couple who didn’t want her to write her message, which is “Google Leonard Leo = Corrupt Courts.” It is not alleged that Sutherland tried to take her phone.

Council Chair Valerie Peacock verified to The Bar Harbor Story that she contacted Kruger via email before the meeting that the council would “be talking with Kevin in executive session this evening.” Kruger then shared that email with the Quietside Journal. The council packet minutes simply states (as did the motion) that the council was going into executive session to discuss a personnel matter.

During the public comment at the beginning of the meeting, Annlinn Kruger said that Sutherland had made town graffiti his priority though the town has no law or ordinance specifically addressing it. Two others spoke during public comments expressing their support for Kruger.

Leo summers in Northeast Harbor. He co-chairs the Federalist Society. The society’s website details its purpose, board, staff, background, and motivations, saying it is an organization of 60,000 lawyers, scholars, law students, and others, founded in 1982, and says that it is “a group of conservatives and libertarians dedicated to reforming the current legal order.” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes called Leo “the most powerful person in America you’ve never heard of.”  

Protestors have been making their presence known outside of Leo’s home as well as on the streets in Northeast Harbor and Bar Harbor via messages like Kruger’s.

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Want to learn more about some of the things mentioned in this article? Of course you do! Here are some links to get you started.

To watch the meeting, click here.

THE COMPLETE COUNCIL PACKET AND SUPPORTING MATERIALS IS HERE

MORE ABOUT THE CENTER FOR CLIMATE INTEGRITY.

Maine State Law about executive sessions

The Mount Desert Islander’s August 31 story by Dick Broom.

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on Leonard Leo.

The Federalist Society.

NPR’s take on the Federalist Society.

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