GROTON -- Following a public information meeting held the previous week, the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee voted to hold back permission for an out-of-state fuel provider to survey district property.

That decision was followed by a second vote in support of the resolution considered at Monday's Town Meeting.

The twin votes came amid swiftly rising debate over the project being promoted by Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, which intends to run a new 36-inch high-pressure main from Dracut through Groton and beyond.

In Groton, the proposed pipeline would run across portions of land owned by the Conservation Commission, Conservation Trust, beneath the Nashua River, over numerous private parcels and over land at Groton-Dunstable Regional High School.

Along the full length of the buried pipeline, a 50-foot-wide corridor would be permanently clear-cut for access.

Although some residents in the affected towns have come out against the plan on grounds of damage to the environment due to laying the pipeline or the gas being produced by "fracking," others feared for the sanctity of private property.

Similar concerns were raised by member Leslie Lathrop at the committee's meeting of May 28 when she asked for two votes: one requiring the administration to keep the School Committee informed about any future contact by Kinder Morgan with the district and the second to deny cooperation with any requests made by the company such as visiting school property or to do any surveying.

Although fellow committee members acceded to the first vote, they stopped short of endorsing the second.

Lathrop raised the issue again at the committee's work session held June 25 and although her colleagues again joined her on the first question, the move to oppose the pipeline outright ended up a split decision with members Allison Manugian and John Giger dissenting while members Thomas Steinfeld, Leslie Lathrop, Luis DeLoureiro and Jeffrey Kubick voting in favor. Stephanie Cronin abstained.

Lathrop reiterated arguments that had been raised by opponents that the pipeline was dangerous and would harm the local environment.

What about students wanting to use school property for nature walks, asked Lathrop. Might they not be in danger in proximity to such a pipeline?

Not unsympathetic to opposition to the pipeline, Giger remarked on how answers to questions by Kinder Morgan representatives at the public information meeting had been unsatisfying. Nevertheless, saying that a new route might yet settle the issue without outright cancellation of the project, Giger chose to remain open to to proposal.

Joining him was chairman Manugian who, dismissing most of the arguments against the pipeline, preferred that the committee as a group leave off taking a position on the resolution.

Strategic plan

Committee members began work on development of a strategic plan for the district with new superintendent Kristan Rodriguez leading the effort.

Rodriguez started with a presentation detailing how the effort would proceed beginning with a needs assessment that would concentrate on the schools' instructional core: The interaction between teachers and students.

A Strategic Planning Committee made up of a cross-section of interested parties from administrators, town officials and parents, would create a five-year plan following "feedback sessions" with the public.

"We want it to be a living document," Rodriguez said of the final plan, something that could be flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances.

Rodriguez reminded committee members that the last time the district had a strategic plan was in 2009 and that one was never implemented.

The need for a strategic plan became necessary after a fiscal crisis earlier in the year. It highlighted the district's lack of forward planning needed to make more responsible choices in spending that can be understood by the public and town officials.

Of concern to committee members was the definition of what was meant by having a "quality school," which might be different to different constituencies. It was a problem that a new Strategic Planning Committee would need to take into account.

Strategic Planning Committee membership was set at 13, including at least one parent from both Groton and Dunstable. 

"This takes things to the next level," noted Rodriguez, after getting the approval of the committee for her plan. "I'm really excited about it."