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Northern Pass offers property tax valuation floor to selectmen

This simple map shows the route of the proposed High-Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) Northern Pass Transmission line through the town of Dummer. The town's website (www.dummernh.org) includes detailed route information, including two visual simulations. (Courtesy of Eversource) (click for larger version)
September 30, 2015
DUMMER — Three representatives of the proposed Northern Pass Transmission project — community relations expert Kathleen Lewis, engineering manager Sam Johnson, and North Country liaison Scott Mason — spent about an hour on Tuesday evening, Sept. 22, at the board of selectmen's meeting discussing details of the 8.9-mile overhead route through town. 
For the first time Mason discussed in public an idea that Eversource has developed, designed to set a property tax valuation floor on the poles and other new equipment that would be built in each city and town through which its proposed route runs.

This new concept is apparently directed at allaying the fear — typical in North Country towns — that as soon as new utility projects are built their owners seek a substantial property tax abatement that ends up yielding less local municipal and school property tax payments than used as illustrative examples.  
Mason discussed the methodology that would be used by Eversource to establish "a floor under this project."

There are different methods that a town can use under state law to assess market value. "We are offering that if Dummer uses Book Value minus a 2.5 percent depreciation rate the company will sign a pledge not to seek an abatement," he explained to the select board. "We would register this pledge with the Site Evaluation Committee (SEC), and it would become part of our permit (called a Certificate of Site and Facility)."  

This in no way limits the town from assessing the electric transmission line using a different methodology and taxing it at a higher value. If this should happen, however, Northern Pass would reserve the right to file for an abatement, just the same as any other landowner in town, Mason explained. This pledge is designed to clear up some misconceptions about abatements and utility values and offer the plus of allowing the town to have some clarity on future tax revenues.  

Auditor Tammy Letson, a CPA at Crane & Bell in Lancaster, who was on hand in addition to selectmen Dennis Bachand and Richard Ouluette and town clerk-tax collector Maryanne Letarte, asked some questions. Chairman Roger Corriveau was not able to be on hand.
Mason explained that once project construction is completed, which the company now estimates to be in 2019, Eversource would be required to file its costs with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), establishing Book Value. 
Using the equalized 2013 tax rate, plus a total estimated value of approximately $34,775,000 in that first year, the town's estimated tax payment would be nearly $313,000.
Mason emphasized that details of this guaranteed "floor" concept are still being refined. 
Project engineer Johnson explained how town officials and residents could use the NPT maps — mile-long preliminary design sections known as "mile sheets" — to understand what is now being proposed in the town of Dummer. It is these maps that Eversource anticipates it will be ready in mid-October to file with SEC. Copies of the nine Dummer mile sheets are available in the Dummer town office, plus before-and-after Big Dummer Pond visual simulations. These are also readily available on the town website (www.dummernh.org): click on "Local Resources, then "Information," and then "Northern Pass." Select "Dummer" and then click on the number of the mile sheet an individual route map.

Eversource proposes to erect both monopole and lattice towers, and the height and style of its proposed towers, including replacement towers for the Coös Loop, are noted individually.

The Northern Pass towers will be located between 400 feet and 600 feet apart. The steeper the terrain the closer together they will be, and the flatter the terrain, the further apart they will be.

Eversource crews will use standard maintenance protocols and guidelines to keep the rights of way open.

When asked whether transmission lines would be placed underground in Dummer as has now been promised in certain Grafton County towns, Johnson replied that citizens from across the state had called for the protection of iconic scenic resources in and around the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF), Franconia Notch State Park, and the Appalachian Trail (AT).

Undergrounding more extensively would tip the economic balance to no longer make the project "cost competitive so it would be canceled," Johnson said.

Town resident Brad Wyman, a retired forester, indicated that he would not be unhappy if that happened.

Mason also brought up other aspects of the Forward NH Plan that would deliver more than $3 billion in direct economic benefit to New Hampshire, including 2,400 jobs during construction, $80 million annually in lower energy costs for New Hampshire – as well as additional energy costs savings from a Power Purchase Agreement for Eversource NH customers – $30 million in annual local, county and state real estate tax benefits and a more than $2 billion increase in the state's economic activity.

The project would also be designed to create a $200 million "Forward NH Fund" dedicated to supporting initiatives in tourism, economic development, community investment, and clean energy innovations, with an emphasis on North Country opportunities.

When Rep. Wayne Moynihan of Dummer, who also represents Stark and Northumberland, inquired as to whether the Fund's community betterment and economic development aspects would be directed at communities that physically "host" the NPT line, Mason replied that a lot would be but that there would be "spillage" into places like Berlin where jobs would be created, providing opportunities for residents in surrounding communities.

Eversource also noted that the disposition of some 5,000-plus "multi-use" acres is still being looked into, with the expectation that these lands would likely be used for its wood resources, recreational potential and-or natural resource conservation.

The conversation also turned to the availability of emergency dispatch communications, including radio access, as well as fire and ambulance emergency coverage in case of an accident. Additional training for area First Responders would likely be needed, given the height of the proposed towers.

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