October 02, 2013COLEBROOK — The Colebrook Elementary School gym was a sea of orange vests, hats, scarves, and neckties on Thursday evening when some 250 people, most Coös County residents who live north of Route 110 (the Berlin-Groveton Road), gathered for the fourth and final federal Department of Energy (DOE) public "scoping" hearing on Northern Pass' application for a Presidential Permit to cross the U.S.-Canada border at Pittsburg.
The crowd gave a standing ovation to Lynn Placey, a widow from Stewartstown who refused the big bucks offered by Northern Pass for land that had been in her late husband's family for years. She did accept lesser dollars from SPNHF for conservation easements on two parcels, totaling 86 acres, with which the nonprofit organization attempted to block the proposed high-voltage direct current (HVDC) line.
The crowd listened politely as her nephew, Landon Placey, listed his justifications for reaching his decision to sell his land to Northern Pass. Someday, he said, people will see in hindsight that the transmission line is a form of progress, similar to the coming of railroads and Interstate highways that were once fought and then later embraced.
Ninety-one-year-old retired librarian Frances Hayes of Colebrook was also given a standing "O" after she used her walker to walk briskly to the podium to speak briefly. "I don't want to see the beauty of this area destroyed," Hayes said. She also added direct message to Northern Pass. "Don't think we are going to give up; we're going to fight!"
The evening's first speaker, District 3 Coös County Commissioner Rick Samson of Stewartstown, gave both DOE officials orange baseball caps emblazoned with the word "NO." Samson, who sported an orange tie, said, "If you should come back in another two years, the economy should have improved, and we'll give you some jackets."
Communications director Jack Savage of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF) carried a large yellow bag to the podium that was filled with 1,100 comment cards signed by those who oppose Northern Pass and its proposed transmission towers, most over 80-feet-tall, on land in the state's northern reaches where PSNH does not have an existing right-of-way, plus another eight miles where the line would be buried underground.
Savage dumped the bag onto the table in front of DOE senior planning adviser Brian Mills and then neatly stacked 22 cards signed by project supporters on the table nearby. He pointed out that this represents a 50-to-one ratio.
"The primary purpose of a Presidential Permit is to make a determination that a project crossing an international border actually serves the 'public interest,'" Savage explained. "A strong argument can be made today that, based on these hearings, there has been a strong expression by the public that it is not in their best interest. We believe that the DOE should consider, based on public input, a conclusion that the public interest will not be served … and should reject the application and cease any further work on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)."
Both Rep. Larry Rappaport, a Republican of Colebrook who is a member of the House Science, Technology, and Resources Committee and the prime sponsor of the law that passed to prohibit the use of eminent domain for certain utility projects, and Rep. Howard Moffett, a Democrat of Canterbury, opposed the project as now proposed and spoke in favor of burying the transmission line under existing "softened" travel corridors, including rail lines.
"They can put these things six feet underground, where no one's going to be bothered by it," Moffett said, pointing to similar lines proposed for burial in Maine and New York. "Northern Pass says that it's too expensive, but don't believe it." He spoke against allowing New Hampshire's scenic landscapes to be trashed in order to deliver electricity to southern New England states.
Cindy-Lou Amey of Pittsburg, who had opposed the project two years ago at the 2011 scoping hearing, asked rhetorically, "Were we not clear, not united in our position against this project? Why are we doing this again?" Amey scolded Northern Pass as though it were a naughty child.
A dozen or so NPT supporters were on hand wearing blue T-shirts and hats.
Mark Armstrong of Errol, who works for Wagner Forest Management, who stated he was expressing his own opinion, said, "The rock solid, reliable electric power grid we enjoy here didn't just magically appear. We will need this power. During these past decades, wealthy nonprofit, phony environmentalist racketeers have successfully blocked any new construction of hydroelectric and-or nuclear facilities, which by now could already be providing low-cost, base-load power right here in this country."
Others said they were concerned that amateur radio transmission, often vital in emergencies, would be harmed by overhead transmission lines being erected on Ben Young Hill, and some said that they were concerned by the possibility that exposure to electromagnetic fields could cause cancer.
Still others recalled the role models that local iconic figures have been, including subsistence farmer Kenneth Poore of Stewartstown. They invoked the region's rich heritage of resisting the heavy hand of government, including the positive legacy of the Indian Stream Republic, an ongoing suspicion of foreign power, and a deep-seated desire to be part of a continuum of local land stewardship.
Unlike the previous night's testimony given at the Mountain View Grand in Whitefield, few speakers cited falling property values as their reasons for opposing Northern Pass, since most on hand expect they are "here to stay."
Radio personality Brian "Bulldog" Tilton, formerly of Baltimore, Md., explained that the White Mountain National Forest is the playground of his two daughters. He asked that the USFS deny Northern Pass a special use permit to put its towers on an already existing 10-mile-long cut through the Forest.
The scoping meetings are one step in securing a Presidential Permit. Mills pointed out that the permit "does not authorize Northern Pass to build the line; the state of New Hampshire controls that process."
The deadline to submit comments is Nov. 5, after which the DOE will issue a scoping report and then begin to work on the project's EIS.
Comments can be posted online at www.northernpasseis.us/comment; by e-mail to Brian.Mills@hq.doe.gov; or by mail to Mills' attention at the U.S. DOE, 1000 Independence Ave. SW, Washington DC 20585.