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Selectmen ask USDOE to consider requiring Northern Pass to be buried


October 16, 2013
WHITEFIELD — The board of selectmen for the first time have officially commented on the proposed $1.4 billion Northern Pass Transmission project to bring 1,200 megawatts of HydroQuebec electricity to the New England Grid, primarily on overhead transmission lines.

The board recently sent a letter to Brian Mills, senior planning advisor to the Office of Electricity and Energy Reliability of the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE), a key player in the process of deciding whether or not the proposed Northern Pass Transmission (NPT) project will receive a Presidential Permit to cross the US-Canada border in Pittsburg.

Although signed by all three members of the board of selectmen — Wendy Hersom, Duane Hall and Mark Lufkin — the letter, written as USDOE prepares an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), also incorporates Planning Board comments.

"The Selectmen are concerned that the long-term reliability and security of the energy infrastructure in our area be maintained," the trio writes in an umbrella statement before listing five specific areas of concern. "However, we are also most concerned that our fragile tourism economy of northern New Hampshire not be adversely impacted by the above-ground transmission line. We have lost our paper mills and furniture manufacturing in western Coös County, and we have to rely more than ever on the natural scenic beauty of our area and tourism, such as offered by our Mountain View Grand Hotel."

"We ask that consideration be given to burying the entire (proposed) High-Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission line through Whitefield," the selectmen write.

Northern Pass proposes to run 10.4 miles of overhead wires on towers that would most commonly be 90 feet tall, investing $32.1 million in Whitefield. This, NPT's projects, would generate $743,664 in local property taxes: $585,000 in municipal and local education taxes, and $159,000 in county taxes.

The selectmen list five specific areas of concern in its letter to USDOE, including their concerns about depreciation.

First, they point out that immediately north of Whitefield village the proposed overhead HVDC line would require multiple structures that are proposed to be located a short distance and on both sides of Route 3, the town's major north-south route on which many residences are located. Multiple tower structures would be required because the existing Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) substation is in the middle of the existing 115 kV Right of Way (ROW), they note. These structures would be up to 115 feet tall, far higher than the existing 55-foot-tall existing wood poles.

"Such a scenario will make for a terrible aesthetic gateway to our Village and the Mountain View Grand Hotel," the trio writes.

Second, the airport commissioners of the Mount Washington Regional Airport that serves the local tourism economy and the area's two Grand Hotels — the Omni Mount Washington in Bretton Woods and the Mountain View Grand — are planning a 1,000-foot-long runway extension to an existing 4,001-foot-long runway in order to accommodate jet and commuter air traffic.

"The existing 115 kV transmission line to the west and north of the Airport are 55-feet high," the selectmen note. "How will the proposed 90-foot HVDC towers in this ROW affect the safety of the Airport?" the board asks.

The selectmen do not mention, however, that they have not encouraged the airport commissioners to go forward with these plans.

Third, the selectmen point out that the proposed HVDC line would run through the Pondicherry National Wildlife Refuge in Whitefield. "Pondicherry is designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service because of its wetlands and diverse bird life," the trio note.

Fourth, the HVDC transmission line would cross Route 142 and be very close to residential subdivisions, including a mobile home park, on both sides of that highway. "How will the higher transmission towers affect local property values?" the board asks.

Fifth, the proposed 90-foot-tall towers HVDC line would run just to the west and parallel the entire length of Burns Lake and its many lakeside cottages and run in the valley between Dalton Mountain and Kimball Hill, an important local scenic area. Likewise, the HVDC would cross the Forest Lake State Park road and run to the east of Forest Lake.

The existing towers now in place on the ROW are only 55 feet tall.

"Not only do the local folk, but tourists value the natural scenic values of the area," the selectmen note. "Reviewing the visual simulation at Burns Lake and from the Forest Lake Road, the PSNH monopole option offered would appear to be much more aesthetically attractive than the truss towers, however, clearly the buried HVDV alternative is the better choice for Whitefield." Simulations can be viewed on the "Northern Pass Journal," found on the Internet.

"Finally, we recall pictures of the hundreds of miles of transmission towers taken down by the Quebec ice storm of 1998," the board states. "Will not buried lines be more secure and reliable than overhead? We also ask why can the proposed buried 300 miles HVDC Hydro Quebec be so much less expensive in New York State than that estimated for underground by Northern Pass in New Hampshire?

"The proposed HDVC line through Whitefield is in the valley and lowlands where a review of USDA soils map indicates deep soils to depth with minimal ledge," the board points out as an indication that burying the transmission lines would be feasible.

And the board listed a further concern related to the town's future property tax receipts should Northern Pass be built, as now proposed.

"While not an aesthetic or environmental concern, we asked PSNH two years ago how will the proposed HVDC line be depreciated and over what time period?

"PSNH has had a history of continually challenging municipal utility assessments," the trio point out, "and PSNH has been unable to give an estimate of how depreciation expenses would be determined."

The board also asked to be included in the USDOE's mailing list while the Northern Pass EIS is being developed.

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