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I-91 alternative another idea in mix for Northern Pass opponents

Glenn Kunst wondered if he would ever be able to sell his home if Northern Pass was constructed. (Photo by Darin Wipperman) (click for larger version)
March 16, 2016
WHITEFIELD — Nearly four hours of public testimony was delivered on Friday evening at the Mountain View Grand's Presidential Room. Nearly all who spoke expressed concerns about granting a federal permit for the construction of Northern Pass, the controversial hydropower transmission project first proposed in 2010.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has created a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for Northern Pass. The document examines a variety of alternatives to the current proposal, which would run 192 miles of transmission line through New Hampshire, with about 130 miles of the line above ground.

Federal officials are involved in the process because Northern Pass lines would cross an international border, triggering a requirement for the federal Presidential permit.

Many commenters thanked the DOE for the extensive amount of work that has gone into the DEIS. However, certain commenters suggested other alternatives, such as running the line down I-91 in Vermont, need more through study prior to granting any Presidential permit for construction of Northern Pass.

Mary Sloat, a North Country property owner who resides in Hanover, said the I-91 route makes a lot of sense.

"We do not need this energy here," she said.

David Van Houten of Bethlehem was another speaker to point toward further study of I-91 as a Northern Pass option. He called the current Northern Pass proposal "simply ridiculous."

Chris Thayer is a Sugar Hill resident who works for the Appalachian Mountain Club. He was another commenter to bring up the I-91 burial option for Northern Pass.

Otherwise, he said the project offers "high impact, old technologies."

Thayer wondered why the DEIS did not explore the I-91 idea.

The I-93 route through Franconia Notch is seen as another viable alternative to many people, including Walter Palmer of Franconia. Burying the line along I-93 would be simple, he suggested, "with practically no abutters" to the transmission project.

Northern Pass has suggested the I-93 route offers a host of problems. Currently, the project seeks to bury 60 miles of line, mainly through the White Mountain National Forest region in Grafton County.

Frederick Von Karls of Sugar Hill was another person to doubt the proposed project route.

"I feel this state is a national treasure," he declared.

Von Karls hoped to see additional cost-benefit analysis for Northern Pass.

Regional realtors expressed several concerns about Northern Pass.

"All real estate is local," Lancaster's Peter Powell said.

Concerned about impact on tourism from visual effects of power lines as tall as 120 feet, Powell said, "If one business is hurt, we are all hurt." He hoped a solution could be found that would "work for us all, and not against any of us."

"Even when small," Powell added, "lines are ugly."

Sally Pratt also stated her opposition to Northern Pass.

"The message is here from the people," she said.

She suggested a "tremendous impact on the values of property" would result from an energy project with so many visible towers.

Stark's Kevin Spencer said about 3,000 feet of above ground power lines would run along his property. He said the proposed project "will disrupt the area quite considerably.

Glenn Kunst of West Dummer was another resident of Coös County to question Northern Pass.

"The highest tower is going to be by our house," he said, and doubted whether he would ever be able to sell his home if the current proposal was allowed.

Rebecca More spoke of her concerns, as well. The granddaughter of John Wingate Weeks, who authored the legislation creating the national forest system, More compared Northern Pass to the 19th Century timber companies that clearcut so much of New Hampshire.

Now, More said, we have "a new serpent in our Eden."

Visual impacts on Whitefield were the concerns of more than one commenter. Bruce Brekke said he abuts the Northern Pass right-of-way for about 3,000 feet. He suggested the project would "permanently ruin the viewshed."

Coös County Commissioner Rick Samson donned an orange tie at the hearing. The color is widely used by Northern Pass opponents.

During his testimony, Samson said Northern Pass would "further our dependence on foreign suppliers" of energy.

"This is all about big money," he continued.

"This state is everyone's backyard," Samson added.

Howard Berthianune of Twin Mountain was the only area resident to provide an endorsement of Northern Pass. He said the Forward NH Fund, economic development dollars from the project "will support our local businesses."

Berthianune continued, "This project will provide a much needed upgrade" by expanding capacity of the Coös Loop distribution lines.

A proponent of biomass electricity, Berthianune said the loop upgrade promises up to 100 megawatts of extra energy for the region. With that additional supply capacity, he suggested, Northern Pass offers "a much needed boost to the timber industry."

Mike Stirling, who works for Bob Chapman on plans to upgrade the former Groveton Mill site, also said positive words about Northern Pass on Friday evening. The out-of-state resident said Chapman "is very concerned about his backyard," which explains why he "has worked tirelessly" to improve the region.

Stirling added that Northern Pass is "a vital opportunity to bring some needed economic development revenue to this state."

Such potential did not sway several area residents. Elizabeth Wyman of Lancaster said Northern Pass has "too many adverse impacts," while Henrietta Howard warned that the project is merely "for the private use and profit of a foreign government."

"America is being owned by foreign countries, piece by piece," Howard added.

Although most comments focused on how Northern Pass could impact the state's northern region, Statehouse Representative Sue Ford of Easton provided comments to express concern about how the project would impact Concord.

With 77 towers in the state's capital city, Concord would be affected in ways southern New England would never accept, Ford said.

"No one in Boston or Hartford would put up with 77 towers in their capital city," Ford said.

She offered support for Alternative 4A in the DEIS, which calls for burial of the project along I-93.

Barbara Meyer was another Easton resident to express concerns at Friday's hearing. She said the I-93 route would not impact towns and residences.

Meyer said Northern Pass has created a "feeling of being crushed by political expediency."

Written comments on the DEIS are being accepted by DOE through April 4. Comments for or against Northern Pass can be sent electronically through an online form available at: http://www.northernpasseis.us/comment.

Matin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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