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Dalton residents face 18 months of uncertainty



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This map of Dalton shows both the now-preferred 2.2-mile route, right, for the proposed 1,200 MW HVDC Northern Pass transmission line and the 6.3-mile alternate route that, if ultimately selected, would slice through a newly cleared 150-foot-wide swath. Courtesy Northern Pass LLC. (click for larger version)
November 17, 2010
DALTON — Residents of this small bucolic Connecticut River town face some 18 months of uncertainty.

It will likely take that long to determine which of two routes — the existing 2.2-mile-long right-of-way (ROW) or the 6.3-mile-long alternative ROW — will be selected for the proposed new 1,200 megawatt Northern Pass high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line.

Two representatives from Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) — community relations manager Kathleen Lewis and regional project manager Don Chase — presented a non-specific "high-level" overview of the $1.1-plus billion 140-mile-long project at the Nov. 9 selectmen's meeting.

Chairman Mike Crosby and selectman Brian Hardy were present as well as members of the Planning Board, Conservation Commission, Fire Department, and Police Chief John Tholl along with other interested citizens.

The now-preferred route in Dalton is an existing right-of-way (ROW) across and near the Whitefield town line, some of which is already 275-feet wide, with the remainder 265-feet wide.

"The new proposed line would fit into this existing ROW," engineer Chase explained, noting that existing structures are 40 to 60 feet tall. Some existing towers might have to be moved.

A rule of thumb in designing ROW, he said, is that the narrower the width, the taller the towers.

A 6.3-mile-long route that slices through the town's geographic center has also been designated, this in case the existing ROW cannot be used.

If that ROW were to be developed, it would be 150-feet wide.

PSNH and Northern Pass would prefer not to have to clear a 6.2-mile ROW, however, Mr. Chase said.

The final determination of which route will be the selected route will not likely be determined until the state Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) hearings are held in approximately 18 months, leaving landowners along the alternate route in limbo likely until May or June 2012.

The federal and state permitting timeline is expected to last about two years.

If approved, construction is expected to take three years, with electricity flowing south from Canada in 2015 at the earliest.

The cost of putting the line underground in the Granite State would be prohibitive, the engineer said in answer to a question.

Steel towers — either monopoles or lattice – would range in height from 90 feet to 135 feet, depending on the topography and what must be spanned.

The pair admitted as they ran through their slide-show that the information provided would likely generate more questions than answers, since design specifics have not been determined. But, they noted, there would be lots of opportunity for citizens to participate in the planning process, including at some required hearings in Coös County.

The project is designed to bring low-carbon electricity into the United States at an as-yet undetermined location on the Canadian border in Pittsburg. The engineer noted that the electricity, most of which would come from hydroelectric facilities, would provide a continuous supply, unlike solar panels or wind farms which operate sporadically.

If the 70-MW Laidlaw-Berlin project goes forward, PSNH would meet the state's goal of generating 25 percent of its electricity from in-state renewable sources by the year 2025. The Hydro-Quebec power sources will nonetheless help the environment, its spokesmen explained, but under today's state rules will not qualify in meeting the state's goals.

Asked if there were places in which red beacons would be required atop the towers, Mr. Chase explained that a dialog has already been opened with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to find out if that would be necessary near the Mount Washington Regional Airport in Whitefield.

Other citizens asked about coronas, electrical and magnetic fields (EMFs), and arcing noise, all of which, Mr. Chase explained, must stay within certain thresholds.

Direct Current lines have low-level fields similar to the earth's magnetic fields, Mr. Chase said.

Now that Northern Pass has reached out to municipal officials, landowners can expect to receive letters asking permission for wetlands and other scientists to examine their property in detail.

"Open Houses" will also be held in affected towns so landowners can get specific answers to their questions.

The two routes to be examined have not been laid out on town tax maps. Nonetheless, if built, the project would increase the town's tax base and the tax revenue stream to help pay town, school, and county taxes. The project's overall effect will be to bring "green energy" to New Hampshire and other New England states at lower, competitive prices.

Asked if ATVs could use the ROW for trails, Ms. Lewis replied that the power company would buy an easement and individual property owners would still retain the right to decide whether to let ATVs or snowmobiles traverse their property.

Hand or machine clearing — and not chemicals — would be used to keep any ROW cleared in conformity with federal regulations.

Brad Thayer said he hoped that new tower structures would be designed to blend into the background, by use of rust-colored steel that does not gleam in the sun.

Five-year Dalton resident John Paquette said that he believed the project would greatly diminish the great beauty of the town's landscape that had drawn him to move to the area from Manchester.

The Northern Pass project now maintains a toll-free number — 1-800-286-7305 — on which citizens can leave recorded questions with their phone number. Answers will be secured within a day, if possible, or at least promptly.

A website — complete with individual maps of towns that have had informational sessions — has also been set up: www.northernpass.us.

A notebook of information and a printed color map is available in the Dalton Town Hall.

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