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NY town sued for banning ‘frack’ talk at meetings

ALBANY, N.Y. — Two environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday against an upstate New York town, alleging that it violated residents’ right to free speech by banning discussion of natural gas drilling at town board meetings.

The town board in Sanford, about 100 miles southwest of Albany in Broome County, passed a resolution in September saying there already had been hours of public comment for and against gas drilling and that no further discussion would be allowed during board meetings, although residents could still submit comments in writing.

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‘‘If people are silenced by their own elected representatives, how can they trust them to act in their best interests?’’ said Kate Sinding, a Natural Resources Defense Council attorney, as her group announced the lawsuit, which was filed in US District Court. The defense council and Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy filed the suit on behalf of town residents who are members of their groups.

Herbert Kline, a Binghamton lawyer who represents Sanford, said the resolution was supported by an opinion from the state Committee on Open Government.

‘‘People who were against fracking had, in the minds of the town board, monopolized discussion in the public participation portion of prior meetings to the extent that very little other business could be accomplished,’’ Kline said in explaining what led to the resolution.

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