October 02, 2013WHITEFIELD — The beauty of the mountain landscape that has lured visitors to the Mountain View Grand Resort and Spa, once named the Mountain View House, since the days following the Civil War was one of the several arguments made by some 40-plus speakers as to why the proposed Northern Pass Transmission project should not be built as an overhead line as proposed.
More than 350 residents of Coös and Grafton Counties made up the standing-room-only crowd at the third of four public "scoping" sessions put on by the federal Department of Energy that must consider whether a Presidential Permit should be issued to allow the $1.4 billion project to bring 1,200-megwatts of high-voltage direct current (HVDC) from Hydro-Quebec south to cross the U.S.-Canada border at Pittsburg. Nearly all opposed the project, and many wore bright orange vests, hats, scarves and ties to show their solidarity.
"It's time for this project — Public Service Company and Hydro-Quebec — to fold their tent, go home and leave us alone," said Executive Councilor Ray Burton, a Republican of Bath.
Rep. Brad Bailey, a Republican of Monroe, said that the proposed line would merely serve as an "extension cord" between Canada and southern New England, bringing no public benefit to New Hampshire. If built as proposed, there would be a loss of vital tourism dollars, lowered real estate values, and damage to environmentally sensitive areas, the freshman rep said.
Planning Board chairman Ed Betz of Whitefield said that Northern Pass should bury the line immediately north of Whitefield Common rather than erecting multiple 115-foot-tall towers at the PSNH substation to create an ugly entrance to the charming tourist-oriented village. The electric poles now in place are only 55 feet tall, the civil engineer pointed out. Less intrusive monopoles, rather than the lattice towers, should also be erected near both Burns and Forest Lakes. Betz, like a number of other speakers, asked that it be clear how the line's depreciation would be calculated so that the developer's promised property taxes would be realized.
Rep. Marcia Hammon, a Democrat of Whitefield, said that the proposed line must be buried if it is built. Just as today's childbirth practices have changed so that the norm is far different than in the past, so too is what is now seen as acceptable transmission practices. "We won't be flummoxed," Hammon declared.
Rep. Susan Ford, a Democrat of Easton, Rep. Rebecca Brown, a Democrat of Sugar Hill, and Rep. Linda Lauer, a Democrat of Bath all spoke in opposition, as did District 7 Senator Andrew Hosmer of Laconia, plus selectman Margo Connors and Zoning Board member John Colony, both of Sugar Hill.
"Northern Pass is a private profit-laden insult to the citizens of Easton," said ConCom chairman Roy Stever of Easton.
Only three speakers supported Northern Pass: Mayor Paul Grenier, a Democrat of Berlin, who has served for 12 years as a Coös County Commissioner; and Allen Bouthillier and David Atkinson, both businessmen of Lancaster.
Grenier explained that property taxes that Northern Pass would pay into the county coffers would help pay the costs of operating two nursing homes. He pointed out that the cost of providing county services continues to rise as the number of county taxpayers continues to fall. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Grenier said, adding, however, that the county and all affected towns be guaranteed to receive all promised increases in property taxes. Bouthillier said Coös needs jobs, and Atkinson said he looks to what compromises could be made to ensure that the county would get an economic boost.
Eighth-grade student Jessica Houle of Littleton warned that her research indicates that the health of people and animals as well as views could be greatly harmed by the proposed project.
Retired hedge fund manager Jim Dannis of Dalton railed against the developer's greed, pointing out that the utility is guaranteed a 12.56 percent rate of return. If Northern Pass were willing to throttle back its return to nine percent for three to five years, it could easily absorb the cost of burying the line on the entire route, Dannis asserted. "When Northern Pass tells you they can't afford to bury the line, it's a lie," Dannis stated.
A substantial number of speakers hold Ph.D.s: historian Linda Upham-Bornstein of Lancaster; historian Rebecca Weeks Sherrill More of Providence, R.I. and Lancaster, a great-granddaughter of Bay State Congressman John W. Weeks who sponsored the Weeks Act of 1911; psychologist Debi Warner of Littleton; former FERC economist Eliot Wessler of Whitefield; scientist Art Hammon, also of Whitefield; and psychologist Frederick von Karis of Sugar Hill.
Retired UNH English professor Dr. Susan Schibanoff of Easton pointed out that three Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) have been completed in the past because of attempts to use the existing 10-mile transmission line ROW on the WMNF, six miles of which would require a special use permit and four on an existing easement. Schibanoff explained that in 1978 an EIS recommended that the NHDOT take no action to build a road on the ROW; in 1978-80 an EIS recommended that no additional transmission line be built on the ROW; and in 1986 an EIS recommended that no Direct Current electric transmission line be built on the ROW. "Let's not reinvent the wheel that already has a flat tire; enough is enough," Schibanoff concluded.
Dolly McPhaul of Sugar Hill accused the federal DOE of being "the lapdog to PSNH."
Surveyor John Wilkinson of Lancaster said that he and thousands of others steadfastly oppose Northern Pass being issued a Presidential Permit since it would result in the destruction of the North Country's scenic views. The project, he said, is not being built to benefit the state of New Hampshire since from Northern Pass' standpoint it is "only in the way."
Mark McCullock of Stratford urged WMNF Supervisor Tom Wagner not to issue Northern Pass a special use permit to build its towers on the existing ROW. He warned Wagner that if did issue it he would "be judged forever" for that one decision and not for his years of thoughtful stewardship. "My personal advice," McCullock said, "is to tell Northern Pass to kiss my ass."
Singer-guitarist Katie Rose Siggins of Whitefield sang her signature opposition song, "Live Free or Die."
John W. Jones of North Sutton said that building a string of towers through the White Mountains would be like painting "warts on Mona Lisa."
Andrew Smith, owner-broker of Peabody & Smith Realty with offices in Franconia, Littleton, Plymouth, Bretton Woods and Holderness, said that the value of real estate has fallen substantially not only adjacent to the proposed Northern Pass project but also near to it and in some instances has stalled all sale activity.
A number of speakers spoke of their concern as they look to the day in which they might want to downsize or anticipate that their heirs may decide to turn their inheritance into cash. They also pointed out that this reality would lower a town's tax base, reducing any positive tax impact from Northern Pass' investment.
Charlie Duursema of Lancaster, who is an abutter to Roger's Campground, urged that if the line does end up being built, then the Route 2 crossing near his house should be buried.
Many speakers said that all of the line should be buried.
Hank Metheny, New England Regional Director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy who oversees the management and protection of the AT in New England — 700 miles, five states, two National Forests, and several Wilderness areas — highlighted how the proposed project would impact and harm the AT.