August 27, 2012CONCORD — The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF) announced at a Monday afternoon press conference that it has signed five purchase-and-sale agreements with four landowners to place conservation easements on more than 1,500 acres of working forests and open fields in northern Coös County and launched a $2.5 million capital campaign to block Northern Pass.
Spokesmen for the 111-year-old nonprofit land conservation organization said they believe that the acreage now under agreement lies directly in what they called "the obvious intended path" of the proposed 1,200-megawatt Northern Pass high-voltage direct-current transmission line project.
Acquiring these extensive "no-development" conservation easements would thwart the efforts of Northeast Utilities to bring Hydro-Quebec power down a 180-mile-long route through New Hampshire by blocking the efforts of Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) to acquire 40 miles of new rights of way (ROW), they said. The easement documents will be crafted to prohibit not only overhead but also underground transmission lines.
SPNHF President-forester Jane Difley, communications director Jack Savage, and vice president for Policy & Land Management Will Abbott launched a $2.5 million capital campaign which, they said, should be wrapped up by Halloween — just over two months from now.
The spokesmen explained that SPNHF has steadfastly opposed the proposed Northern Pass project, believing that transmission towers should never be allowed to despoil New Hampshire's landscape. Some of the state's best landscapes — those in northern Coös — should be protected in perpetuity, removing the possibility that such an "industrial" project could be reconfigured in the future, five, 50, or 500 years from now so as to meet the state's requirements for using the right of eminent domain, the spokesmen said.
"By conserving these 1,500-plus acres we are taking another step toward compelling Hydro Quebec, Northeast Utilities and PSNH to realize that they need to look at other alternatives for their private, commercial power line project," Difley said, noting that blocking the project would make the lands already acquired by Northern Pass "a route to nowhere." Likely, she said, its route would have connected to the so-called Coös Loop that runs from Dummer through Stark to the Northumberland substation.
"It's no secret that Hydro Quebec seeks to export four times the power that would be transmitted by Northern Pass alone." New Hampshire needs to protect itself from an industrialized ROW corridor that could be as wide as 150 feet that could support multiple transmission lines in the future — regardless of the outcome of the immediate Northern Pass proposal. For that reason we are doing what SPNHF does best — permanently protecting our state's forests from reckless, unnecessary development by working with willing landowners."
The Coös parcels under agreement include three in Stewartstown and one in Columbia.
The largest parcel includes 967 acres in Stewartstown owned by the McAllaster family, who have been on the land for generations. They operate a dairy farm and rely on the land for hay and pasture. The McAllaster Farm is also a certified Tree Farm, and includes a maple-sugaring operation. The height of land on Mudgett Mountain has spectacular views west into Vermont, south to the White Mountains and east to Dixville Notch, where SPNHF purchased a 5,800-acre conservation on the bulk of The Balsams' landscape.
Immediately west of the McAllaster Farm is more than 500 acres owned by Green Acre Woodlands, also in Stewartstown. The parcel sits high on North Hill, offering 360-degree views.
Two smaller parcels that total about 100 acres in Stewartstown owned by Lynne Placey are key to disrupting the path that SPNH believes Northern Pass is attempting to use and to protect the flank of Holden Hill.
The fourth parcel, 300 acres owned by the Lewis family in Columbia, links the southern boundary of the Balsams' tract to the northern boundary of the 39,000-acre Nash Stream State Forest.
"Simply prohibiting towers, power lines and a permanently cleared right-of-way on these particular lands make any one of these conservation projects worthwhile," said Difley. "The fact that their protection disrupts what is clearly Northern Pass's intended route makes them doubly important."
PSNH senior corporate news representative Martin Murray reacted quickly to the news: "SPNHF has used this project as a convenient fundraising tool to lock up land and prevent it from being used for economic development and job creation. We see today's announcement as more of the same. They've tried and failed to stop the project. We will continue to work with willing landowners, because New Hampshire and the region need the clean energy, hundreds of jobs and many economic benefits it will deliver to residents for decades to come.
"We have responded to previous concerns about the project by removing proposed alternative routes, and we've made exceptional progress over the course of the last several months in securing a new route in the North Country that has the support of landowners.
"Business groups, as well as labor representatives, have expressed support for the project, citing the hundreds of jobs, reduced energy prices, and significant economic benefits it will bring to New Hampshire.
"It was just three years ago that SPNHF voted to support the construction of new transmission lines in New Hampshire, as a means to import more hydro and wind power from Canada. That vote was part of the N. H. Climate Action Plan that is aimed at reducing emissions of carbon dioxide in New England. Northern Pass is a legitimate response to that recommendation.
"Since that vote, New England's dependence on a single fossil-fuel — natural gas — has grown to an historic 51 percent, posing a significant risk to the reliability of the region's energy supply. More than ever, projects like the Northern Pass deserve consideration by all the public."
When Difley was asked whether or not the $1 million that SPNHF received from the sale of the already-protected Big Island that was purchased by the federal government to add to the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge would go to the Trees Not Towers campaign, she replied that no determination had yet been made. For the first time, however, Difley pledged that these dollars would be spent on conservation projects in the North Country.
SPNHF plans to use all of today's outreach tools to move its capital campaign forward, including an already-made DVD that captures the sight and sound of northern N. H. residents who extol the beauty of its pastoral landscapes.