October 31, 2012NORTH COUNTRY — About 150 contractors and associated businesses attended three supper meetings held in Gorham, Whitefield and Millsfield to which they were invited to learn about potential job opportunities should the proposed $1.1 billion Northern Pass Transmission (NPT) line project move from the drawing board to reality, reported media relations NH manager Martin Murray of PSNH-Northeast Utilities in reply to an e-mail inquiry.
"We've had a number of other business people call us following the meetings, inquiring about the job opportunities that the project will likely offer," he wrote.
Project opponents suggested that the timing of these suppers was designed to soften opposition to the project as a whole and also to blunt any adverse reaction when the route on the first 40 miles from the Canadian border south to the Lost Nation substation in Groveton is finally announced.
Murray, however, explained that the timing is part of the Northern Pass' plan to identify New Hampshire businesses interested in working on the project once it receives all needed permits.
But controversy on a far larger topic — exactly how the consortium of three firms was selected to conduct the needed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) — also hit the airwaves, reported by Chris Jensen, NHPR's North Country reporter. The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), New Hampshire chapter, used the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to secure e-mails from the federal Department of Energy (DOE) on the process and procedures used.
"They appeared to show a Northern Pass lawyer recommended the three firms the federal agency later hired to conduct the crucial environmental impact statement," Jensen reported.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Senator Kelly Ayotte, and Congressman Charlie Bass have also sent letters to DOE outlining their concerns and seeking clarification.
"I am sure you will agree that in order for the public to have confidence in DOE and the outcome of any Presidential Permit application (for NPT lines to cross the US-Canada border), there can be no conflict of interest or appearance of conflict in the process," Shaheen wrote in a letter to DOE Secretary Steven Chu. "CLF argues that the contractor has a clear conflict of interest that will bias the EIS in favor of the applicant."
Nine other and organizations, including the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and The Wilderness Society, as well as individuals, including Cindy Lou and John Amey of Pittsburg, Peter Camaan of Lancaster, Pat and Gardner Kellogg of Littleton, and David Van Houten of Bethlehem, have now joined CLF in signing a joint letter to Brian Mills at DOE expressing "their deep concerns" and asking that "the current contractor team be terminated." They ask DOE "to recommit to an open, fair, and impartial NEPA review of the NP project, including additional opportunities for meaningful public participation."
Northern Pass in its online "Project Journal" responded to CLF's allegations by saying that they are a continuation of its mission "to obstruct, delay, and mislead on Northern Pass" by attempting "to distort the truth and mislead the public."
NPT set "the record straight (in a letter to DOE) on the process used to select the contractor, and exposes CLF's flawed claims," the in-house Journal reported. The letter explains, that "the contractor search was entirely proper," and that "the contractor selection went well above and beyond normal NEPA requirements by requiring the selected contractors have no current or past relationship with Northern Pass, Northeast Utilities, or any of its affiliates." NPT also pointed out: "It is routine for DOE and other federal agencies to ask applicants for projects requiring NEPA review to bear the burden of the search process for a NEPA contractor. The integrity of the process is assured by the conflict of interest standards in the NEPA regulations, the agency's role as final decision-maker on the contractor selection and DOE's supervision of the work of the contractor. In this case, DOE imposed more stringent standards than the regulations require and played a very active role in the search process, including suggesting some candidates and ruling out others." Further, the Journal entry states: "Northern Pass did not structure DOE's relationship with these contractors. In fact, the record shows nothing of the sort. The project closely followed DOE's instructions at each step in the process; ultimately, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) under which the contractor will work was finalized by the DOE and included provisions underscoring DOE's control and direction over the contractor."
DOE public affairs specialist Niketa Kumar responded to CLF's allegations, maintaining that all guidelines were followed.