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Stakeholders confront Yale over role in Northern Pass

by Tara Giles
Sports reporter - Coos County Democrat and Berlin Reporter
April 17, 2019
REGION — The movement against Northern Pass is still at the forefront of many minds throughout the state. In 2017, residents from Cos County discovered that Yale University owned parts of land in New Hampshire that fall into the path of the proposed transmission line. Also discovered was the fact that Yale had plans to lease the property to Northern Pass for said project.

For those not in the know, Northern Pass is a $1.2 billion project that seeks to run power lines from Canada and into southern New Hampshire. Yale owns about 125,000 acres in the state and roughly 500,000 acres over the border in Maine.

New Hampshire residents, including those from Cos County, traveled to the university to speak with those in power over the past two years.

When this coalition called on Yale to stop Northern Pass, the university issued a public statement that read, "The Northern Pass project is undergoing rigorous review in the State of New Hampshire, under the purview of the Site Evaluation Committee."

The SEC has since denied to grant Northern Pass a permit. Eversource, in response has appealed that decision to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

In a letter to this paper, Co-President of Local 33, Robin Dawson said, "After the SEC decision to deny a permit for Northern Pass, the New Hampshire legislature passed a bill that gives Governor Sununu more appointments to the SEC. These actions prompted Dolly McPhaul, resident of Sugar Hill in New Hampshire, to argue, 'There is a saying that goes, 'If you can't win using the current rules, change the rules.' And so they [Eversource and Gov. Sununu] did."

Despite Yale's original praise for the rigorous review of the SEC, they are currently still enabling the project.

Dawson added, "Neither Yale nor Wagner Forest Management (Yale's hired forest management company) has publicly responded to the SEC decision or the SEC's finding that Northern Pass "would have a large and negative impact on land uses in many communities that make up the region affected by the project."

A collaborative letter was sent to decision-makers at Yale from the following people, Dawson, John D. Harrigan (Veteran Statewide Outdoor Columnist and Feature Writer, Colebrook), John Petrofsky (Cos County Stakeholder), Richard Samson (Cos County Commissioner District Three), and Elizabeth Wyman (Cos County Stakeholder and Yale FES Alum '04).

The gist of the letter according to Dawson is as follows, "We are calling on Yale and Wagner to finally take an ethical, albeit a modest, stand by calling on Eversource to drop its appeal in the Supreme Court."

The start of the letter reads, "Communities in Northern New Hampshire view the Northern Pass project as a threat to their landscape, culture, and way of life. This perception motivated an extraordinary grassroots movement, in which working dairy farmers refused multi-million dollar offers for their land. This left Northern Pass dependent upon Yale University and Wagner Forest Management, which leased land to Northern Pass for a viable route. Despite Wagner's willingness to undermine a firewall that residents created, citizens mastered thousands of pages of planning and zoning documents to defeat one of the largest utility companies in the United States."

The letter went on to state, "An indigenous group also viewed Northern Pass as a threat to their culture and livelihood. Members of the Pessamit Innu traveled thousands of miles on multiple occasions to testify that Hydro-Quebec, the entity that would provide power to Northern Pass, "has violated principles enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples."

In an open letter to the University, Chief Simon wrote, "Yale University's financial managers are on the verge of a decision with respect to the Northern Pass Project that will have an indirect, albeit major, effect on our Aboriginal rights. After student, community, and indigenous leaders called on Yale to stop Northern Pass, Yale emphasized its limited control "from both a legal and best practices perspective."

The letter also made mention of the Rainforest Alliance, stating "When the alliance conducted an audit of Wagner's management practices on the land it manages in New Hampshire, the auditors disputed stakeholders who talked about a negative impact on their communities. A primary reason for disputing the stakeholders was that 'The Northern Pass Project was not approved and will not proceed as originally laid out.' However, with Eversource's continued efforts to seek approvals for the project and the changed composition of the SEC, this conclusion no longer holds true."

As for ethics, the letter writers stated that Yale and Wagner should be 'holding themselves accountable to the standard of ethics articulated by Aldo Leopold. Leopold, as pointed out in the letter is a famous Yale alumni who graduated from the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies in the early 1900's.

A well known quote from Leopold was included in the letter: "Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching even when doing the wrong thing is legal."

In the final paragraphs of a lengthy letter, writers stated, "We are requesting that Yale University and Wagner Forestry Management honor Yale's original public statement by recognizing the rigorous process that the SEC undertook and their commitment to the FSC principles. We urge Yale and Wagner to terminate the lease that facilitates this project. At a minimum, we urge that Yale and Wagner respect the communities affected by this project by publicly disavowing their support for Northern Pass. We also urge Yale and Wagner to publicly ask Eversource to drop its current appeal in the New Hampshire Supreme Court. Given Mr. Colgan's testimony in favor of this project20 and the ongoing lease to Northern Pass, silence implicates Yale and Wagner in the harm that this project would cause.

No response to the letter has been given by Yale.

Matin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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