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Sunday, March 11, 2012

John Birch Society wants UN agenda out of Nashua, Aldermen say not an issue

NASHUA – Local members of the conservative John Birch Society handed out flyers in front of City Hall on Saturday as part of their effort to get rid of Nashua’s affiliation with the International Council on Local Environmental Initiatives.

Nashua resident Leif Parsell, 28, said the group was fighting for local property rights, which are under attack by ICLEI and its promotion of the United Nations’ Agenda 21 for sustainable development.

However, aldermen and an ICLEI spokesman dismissed the claims as nonsensical and a waste of time.

“I don’t think they could find a local government staff person in America to corroborate anything they’re saying,” said Don Knapp, ICLEI communications director.

Nashua has been a member of ICLEI since 2007 and has actively used the organization’s resources, including software provided by ICLEI to measure the city’s carbon footprint.

The city pays about $1,200 in annual dues for an ICLEI membership, which provides them with a worldwide network of peers, resources and technical guidance to work on clean energy and environmental projects.

“Nashua has been a leader on these things,” Knapp said. “Their Green Team has been innovative. As a membership organization, we want to help local governments learn from one another, and we share some of the things Nashua has done.”

One example is the new fleet of hybrid trucks the city purchased for the Public Works Department. That effort even drew recognition from President Barack Obama, who mentioned the trucks during a speech on energy policy in Nashua two weeks ago.

“As far as I’m concerned, (ICLEI) has nothing to do with the initiatives that are taking place,” Alderman Brian McCarthy said. “They’ve never solicited us to do anything. I don’t think they’re having any effect on the way projects in Nashua are going.”

McCarthy added that Nashua’s environmental projects are great for the community.

“They’re terrific,” he said. “The conversion to CNG (compressed natural gas) is something that reduces emissions, it reduces our costs … I can’t find a downside to it.”

Still, Parsell said ICLEI promotes less single-family housing and more “stack ’em and pack ’em” housing, which takes away rights from homeowners.

“First they came for our culture, then they came for our Constitution, now they’ve come for our property rights,” Parsell wrote on a sign, which he held up for passersby.

The John Birch Society members said they were not protesting but promoting awareness of Nashua’s affiliation with ICLEI. The group handed out flyers and waved signs at cars.

“This is our culture, fight for it; this is our flag, pick it up; this is our country, take it back!” read a sign held by Nashua resident Kathy Peterson.

“Your town is yours, not the UN’s,” read another sign, held by two local volunteers.

“The aldermen bought into something, and they should buy out of it,” said Hal Shurtleff, regional field director for the John Birch Society. Locals know more about what’s best for their homes than anyone in Europe, he added.

The ICLEI headquarters is located in Bonn, Germany, but the organization has several offices in the United States. About 1,200 local governments subscribe to ICLEI services, including three others in New Hampshire: Keene, Portsmouth and Wolfeboro.

“I don’t like national or international organizations coming to Nashua and telling residents what they can or can’t do with their property,” Parsell said. “There are other ways to solve these problems.”

The group distributed flyers titled “Kick ICLEI out of Nashua” to those who walked by and talked to anyone who would listen.

“If we are not successful, you will lose the right to travel freely without being asked for your ID, lose the right to water your garden, lose the right to refuse a smart Meter, lose the right to lived in a rural area, lose the right to drive a private vehicle,” read the flyer. “Under the guise of ‘Sustainable Development,’ your rights are being eliminated!”

The John Birch Society plans to hold an informational session at the Nashua Public Library in April. The group also plans to work with tea party groups in Greater Nashua and Manchester, Parsell said.

Parsell said he wanted to educate Nashua residents about the city’s affiliation with ICLEI, especially any uninformed aldermen.

“It’s disturbing to me that the local government didn’t know about the organization,” he said. “It’s disappointing, but that’s why we’re out here.”

But Knapp maintains that the John Birch Society members don’t understand ICLEI’s relationship with local governments.

“They’re opposing commonsense solutions,” Knapp said of the John Birch Society. “ICLEI is not even involved in the planning processes. Planners across the country are being accused of being part of this conspiracy theory. They don’t really understand what sustainability is.”

Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or