Opinion: Police presence unwarranted at PSB proceeding

I’m not sure how to even start this but I feel I need to let you know how I felt when I attended the Public Service Board hearing on Friday. I went to show my support for the Cuenos who are facing the challenge of eminent domain.
I walked into the vestibule and was confronted by three armed policemen. It is a small space and they seemed intent on not letting me pass freely. They asked why I was there and they checked me over like bomb-sniffing dogs. I inquired what was going on because the tension was palpable. I received no answer.
I took the elevator up and tried to control my angst over that brief encounter. When I opened the door to go to the hallway, I saw six sheriff’s department officers. I fearfully approached the end of the hall. There I was overwhelmed by the state police presence. The state police completely lined the wall that runs parallel to the hearing room.
I took a deep breath and walked into the hearing room where the furniture had been arranged to form a blockade of tables between the public seating area and the hearing participants and board. There was a human wall of armed police on the other side of the tables facing me (in addition to several others elsewhere in the relatively small room) standing hands on their weapon belts and at the ready … as if they were expecting an assault from the public seating.
I was so frightened and I asked what was going on. Maybe I was in the wrong place. I told them I was there for an eminent domain hearing. I have never seen such a show of force. I have attended countless hearings in that room and I have never witnessed anything that would give cause for this amount of firearms and intimidation. I kept asking for answers to my uncontrollably growing panic. Am I in the right place? What is going on? Why officers from Lamoille and Washington counties along with Montpelier police and an army of state police?
Finally, an officer told me I was in the right room but he wouldn’t explain why they were all there. I sat down alone and shakily thought about leaving. With all the news about innocent people being shot by police, I felt my fears were justified. I told them all that I was not there to do any harm and asked that they not hurt me. No response.
People started filling the room and I was relieved not to be alone anymore. Let me explain how great my fear was. I saw a paperclip on the floor under the table in front of me. My instinct was to pick it up but as soon as I shifted in my chair, I felt the eyes of all these armed men on me. I left it there. I did not want to die for a paperclip. I can laugh now as I write this and I can see my tombstone now, “She died while saving a paperclip from being vacuumed up.”
I will continue to attend these hearings. Their intimidation tactics will not stop me. These are public hearings after all. They should not be dominated by police. I do not understand what the point was if not to deter us from witnessing the unjust actions of the board. That was a terrible use/waste of our resources and tax dollars. I thought I live in Vermont, not a fascist police state where the power is used to dominate and control citizens mentally and physically. They may scare the bejeezus out of me but that won’t stop me from attending. Thanks to them, I am getting stronger.
Mary Martin
Editor’s note: The subject of the public hearing was an eminent domain easement for the Addison Natural Gas Project pipeline in Williston. The hearing was halted after more than 70 opponents of the pipeline sang for 30 minutes drowning out officials trying to carry out the business of the meeting. It was the fifth time an eminent domain hearing was halted in this way in the past two months.

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