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Northern Pass offers NCIC $5 million for Groveton development

Approximately 35 people came to the Aug. 31 Northumberland selectmen's meeting, drawn by the agenda item: "Discussion of Economic Development Package/Northern Pass," which lasted for 90 minutes. (Photo by Edith Tucker) (click for larger version)
September 09, 2015
NORTHUMBERLAND — No conclusions were drawn at the Aug. 31 selectmen's meeting at which townspeople and other stakeholders — CEO & president Jon Freeman of Northern Community Investment Corp. & NCIC vice president-NH Cathy Conway, plus Bob Chapman who owns the 107-acre former paper mill site and his right-hand man Mike Stirling.

Chairman Jim Weagle was unexpectedly absent because his mother fell just before the meeting began at 6 p.m.; she was treated at Weeks Medical Center with 17 stitches for gash on her head and then released.

The selectmen's precise role is unclear because the agenda did not list a public hearing for a specific selectmen's proposal.

Vice chairman Jim Tierney explained that on Monday, Aug. 17, Freeman had invited him to come to a meeting the following day.

Once there he and Freeman plus lobbyist Erik Taylor, communications director of a Concord law firm and community liaison Scott Mason of Stratford, who both work on behalf of the proposed Northern Pass Transmission (NPT) line, discussed a no-strings-attached offer of $5 million made to NCIC for economic development "targeted at Groveton."

Recognizing that the town meeting overwhelmingly voted against the NPT some five years ago, Tierney said he'd told the three men that he would like to talk with the public first before reacting.

When Tierney told them about the meeting, both Weagle and Phillips agreed with this approach.

The $5 million offer is apparently not a permanent one because there's a specific sum available for economic development. "This is a moving train," Tierney said.

"I don't want to be bribed," said Ellen Astle.

Al Rosetto, who referred to Eversource as "Everscrew," asked if it had been NPT that had held up cell service on the Morse Mountain tower.

Cathy Conway replied that no carrier has ever been refused space. AT&T has equipment on the tower; a second lease awaits EDA approval; and a "tech talk" is scheduled at 1 p.m. on Sept. 15 to hammer out details that could lead to a third carrier.

Psychologist Joe Keenan who lives in the Sloats' old house off Lost Nation Road said he had bought the property 10 years ago and had opened his North Country practice 20 years ago because he liked the way it looked. "I like nature and quiet — call me a tree hugger; I cherish the view."

Tierney said that the money would not go to the municipality but could be used at the mill site or for something proposed in the former Emerson Outfitters building, possibly for a low-interest loan for a business with a "black mark" on its credit record. "The town would not be handling the money," he said.

But if jobs and businesses came to town, property taxes would go down "unless the town and school meetings go on a spending spree," Tierney said.

"We should do anything we can to boost businesses," a resident said. "We'd be shooting ourselves in the foot if we don't; we'd be looking a gift horse in the mouth."

Another, using a double negative, said, "If we don't accept this NPT money, Northern Pass won't not go through."

"Recreation is the big thing now and having overhead lines will take away our only leg to stand on," another argued.

Selectmen Michael Phillips declared, "It's not going through unless they bury that line its entire length." The orchardist described Northern Pass as belligerent, greedy, and filled with nastiness.

"This land is our land! And we're not going to capitulate; NPT will make millions and millions — and their offering $5 million," Phillips continued.

When someone touted the extra property tax dollars that NPT would pay, Deputy Tax Collector Elaine Gray said that Eversource, formerly PSNH, has sought abatements to lower its utility taxes. "That's part of the picture," she said.

When someone asked who would decide where these new economic development dollars would go, the answer was that the money would go to and through NCIC.

Ken Strong said that NPT is going to go through and the town would be foolish to turn down economic development money.

"We need jobs in Coös County," he said, adding that would-be Balsams developer Les Otten has a track record of bankruptcies. "Most recreation and tourism jobs pay $8 to $10 an hour and can't support the lifestyles people want."

Cynical comments were also made: "They're going to pay off politicians to get what they want; we're all salivating for this money; people are prostituting this town."

Chapman explained that, if offered, he would accept Northern Pass money through NCIC. He said he is spending $600,000 to clean the clarifiers and lagoon and has made plans to re-install rail tracks, all with the aim of bringing in a few hundred jobs in a number of small businesses.

Stirling said that he believes in the town's future and that $5 million would give it a big boost.

Freeman said that he was on hand to learn the mood of the town, since NCIC would not want to go against the town's wishes. "We've been a partner with the town," he said. "We know the town's sensitivities about NPT."

Without economy activity, the town's total assessment will continue to fall, Tierney explained, noting that its value is 11 percent less than two years ago.

Tierney said that he and the board would try to find out the particulars of exactly what NPT had offered NCIC.

When he was asked on Wednesday how he stood, Weagle replied, "I wasn't there, and I won't offer any opinion until I've read the minutes. I'm very grateful my mother is doing well and that the town has a fine EMS response."

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