March 23, 2016REGION – In an order of 53 pages released Friday, the Site Evaluation Committee made decisions about the more than 160 requests for intervention in the Northern Pass hearing process. Most towns requesting intervention are consolidated into three groups, while 29 individuals and organizations had intervener requests denied.
A person or organization granted intervener status has a right to participate in SEC proceedings, including the calling of witnesses. Based on the large number of intervention requests for the Northern Pass project, the SEC order noted, "This matter is without precedent in New Hampshire."
Many of the 160 intervener requests were from persons or organizations opposing Northern Pass. The primary interest in consolidating intervener requests, the order added, was the difficulty imposed in administering "a proceeding of this nature with that number of individual, separate parties."
Northern Pass, a 192-mile proposal to construct a 1,090 megawatt hydroelectric transmission line through New Hampshire, must receive a construction permit from the SEC. A final decision of the project's application is due in December.
On Feb. 26, Northern Pass filed a response to the large number of intervener requests. This prompted many responses, including a number of letters protesting the effort to combine interveners into smaller groups.
The SEC letter released on Friday agreed with some of the requests from Northern Pass to reduce the number of interveners. However, some consolidation requests from the project were rejected in the SEC's order.
Interveners are required to state their rights and substantial interests that could be impacted by the project. If "the interests of justice and the orderly and prompt conduct of the proceedings would not be impaired by allowing the intervention," the SEC must grant the request.
Most towns along the Northern Pass route requested intervener status. In some cases, like Bethlehem, Dalton, and Whitefield, multiple town bodies in a single municipality filed separate intervener letters by the Feb. 5 deadline.
The SEC order recognized the right of towns, including separate entities like selectmen and a planning board, to gain intervener status. However, Friday's order creates three different groups of towns, based on geography.
"In order to avoid duplicative arguments and ineffective process," the order declared, combining interveners into "logical groups with similar interests and positions" was necessary.
The three town groups include a northern section from Pittsburg to Littleton. The middle section of municipalities runs from Sugar Hill to Plymouth, with the southern section including towns from Holderness to Deerfield.
Although any town can file separate testimony, the SEC order established that each of the three groups "must designate a single spokesperson for the purposes of filing pleadings, conducting discovery, and examining witnesses at evidentiary hearings."
Franklin and Berlin, two municipalities with governments generally supportive of Northern Pass, also filed for intervener status. Both were granted status as interveners separately from the other towns, although Berlin's request was combined with Cate Street Capital.
The Grafton County commissioners were also granted status as an intervener, combined with the individual request of Coös County Commissioner Rick Samson.
The SEC denied the request for intervention filed by dozens of members of the State Legislature. The legislators "do not express individual interests that will be affected by these proceedings," according to Friday's order.
"The interests asserted by the State Legislators are generalized, and are not sufficient to warrant intervention in this docket," the SEC continued.
Individuals who own property that abuts the proposed Northern Pass route were granted intervener status, but were grouped in a fashion similar to towns. Thus, each group of individuals must determine a spokesperson for all members of the group.
Several non-abutting property owners also requested status as an intervener. In many cases, the SEC recognized that individuals living a distance from the project could still be impacted. However, in granting these requests for intervention, the SEC placed individuals into geographic groups.
Other individuals, including Lancaster realtor Peter Powell and Dr. Deborah Warner of Littleton, had intervener requests denied. The SEC concluded that such requests expressed general concerns, rather than specific interests that would be affected by Northern Pass.
Friday's order also rejected the request to intervene from several organizations that either oppose or support Northern Pass. A total of 29 intervener requests were denied, including the Lafayette School Board in Franconia. The board noted concerns about student safety and access to the school as underground Northern Pass lines are buried along Route 18.
The SEC determined the school board's concerns are "not unique to the Lafayette School Board." The order continued, "It is a common concern to the public at large, and is too general to warrant intervention."
The SEC also rejected the request to intervene from the Chambers of Commerce in Manchester, Rochester, and Nashua, entities on record as supporting Northern Pass.
The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests was granted status as an intervener without being grouped with other organizations. The Society's ownership of land along the Northern Pass route was key to its successful intervener request.
Several other organizations opposing Northern Pass, including the Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust and Appalachian Mountain Club, are grouped as one intervener.
Dixville Capital and Balsams Resort Holdings was granted intervener status as a single party. Potential impact on ski terrain and access to electricity for the resort's revival were seen as issues with "an immediate and direct impact on the resort and the entities that own it," the SEC determined.
The SEC's order can be downloaded at: http://www.nhsec.nh.gov/projects/2015-06/orders-notices/2015-06_2016-03-18_order_on_motions_to_intervene.pdf.
Decisions made in Friday's order are subject to appeal. As established in state law, "Any party aggrieved by a decision on a petition to intervene may within 10 calendar days request that the committee review such decision."