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250 Northern Pass opponents gather to shape strategies

Nearly 250 North Country residents who oppose the proposed 1,200 megawatt high-voltage direct current Northern Pass whose preferred route would require cutting a brand-new 150-foot-wide right-of-way some 40 miles long from Pittsburg to Groveton on which towers would be erected that would range in height from 90 to 135 feet gathered on Tuesday, Nov. 16, at the Colebrook Elementary School to consider how by working together they could stop it, likely by urging its relocation in Vermont. Edith Tucker. (click for larger version)
November 23, 2010
COLEBROOK — It was déj vu all over again on Wednesday night at the Colebrook Elementary School.

Newcomers and natives, young and old, men and women, farmers and biologists along with today's selectmen and yesterday's activists filled the cafeteria.

The same activists who, nearly 30 years ago, helped push the then-proposed Hydro-Quebec-New England Electric Transmission (NEET) Corp. power line into Vermont sat at eight-sided lunch tables and stood along the concrete-block walls alongside those facing the issue for the first time, to listen to speakers explain how best to band together to push another proposed-but-unwanted transmission line into Vermont.

Two custodians counted the crowd as nearing the 250 mark.

Executive Director Richard Johnsen of the Poore Family Foundation for North Country Conservancy welcomed the buzzing-with-anticipation crowd.

Moderator Bruce Kullgren, who moved from below the notches north to reclaim his family's farm in West Stewartstown, said, "This proposed (1,200 megawatt high-voltage direct current line) is not a good thing for the North Country. We have to say 'no.'"

Echoing the preamble to the U. S. Constitution, he said, "We, the people, say 'no.' Our goal is to inform, to put our heads together to fight this battle and to have people step up and get involved."

First, however, he showed a six-minute slideshow of hugely tall transmission towers, copied from online stock photo sites such as Freefoto.com to the beat of Philip Glass' lugubrious Symphony No. 4.

Individual maps of northern New Hampshire towns with proposed and alternative transmission line routes were interspersed with phrases, "Live Free or Fry," "Stop the invasion," and "electro-magnetic radiation."

County treasurer Fred King of Colebrook said that he had learned in his 12 years as a legislator in Concord how utilities and monopolies work. His best advice, he said, is: "Know as much as you can about your opponent."

If Cos County is to benefit from the goal of 25 percent of the state's electric power is to be generated in New Hampshire by 2025, then the so-called Cos Loop must be rebuilt to send biomass and wind power south to the market. The Northern Pass power line would foil Cos plans to export new "green" energy.

Warning of "big-time politics," Mr. King said that experience tells him that this project is going to be built. "The best we can do at this late date is to get it moved to the woods of Vermont," he said. "It would be fruitless to say 'no;' we have to live with this project and support the Colebrook selectmen who say, 'Put it in Vermont.'"

Speaker Valerie Herres of Lancaster said that today's computerized social networks would allow transmission line opponents near-instantaneous communication via their Facebook site, Stop the Northern Pass, and e-mail (infonorthcountrypowerline@gmail.com). Sample warrant articles have been prepared for North Country town meetings in March, she said. Downstate cities and towns are also becoming concerned about the proposed line.

Attorney Bob Baker of Columbia explained that although the proposed line would run north to south, American dollars would flow from south to north to Canada, his native land.

The line is not yet a done deal at the federal level, attorney Baker explained, noting, however, that he is new at utility law. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the innovative financial structure by which the line would only be paid for by participants and not spread across an entire region as usual. Although the Northern Pass Transmission LLC application for a Presidential permit to cross an international border was filed on Oct. 14 with the U. S. Department of Energy (DOE), significantly, it was not published in the Federal Register until Monday, Nov. 15.

This means that those who would like to comment, protest or request to intervene can submit 15 copies of their request on or before Dec. 16 to Brian Mills, Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE-20), U.S. DOE, 1000 Independence Avenue, SW., Washington, DC 20585. Copies should also be filed with: Anne Bartosewicz, NU, 107 Selden Street, Berlin, CT 06037 and Mary Anne Sullivan, Hogan Lovells, LLP, 555 13th St., NW., Washington, DC 20004.

Before a Presidential permit is issued, DOE must determine that the proposed action is in the public interest. In doing so, DOE considers the environmental impacts as described in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), determines its impact on electric reliability, and takes into account any other factors relevant to the public interest.

It is "ludicrous" to expect people to be able to file objections or petitions to intervene when the route has not been sited at the U.S.-Canadian border, attorney Baker complained.

He also cautioned landowners not to be pushed into signing anything until they had consulted a lawyer and understood all their rights.

Psychiatrist Dr. Marty Kaufman of Stewartstown discussed the kinds of effects that he believes are associated with HVDC transmission lines and the corona discharges that surround high-voltage coils. Although there is no proof that there are any adverse effects to humans, he believes that some people do become depressed and anxious after exposure.

He said that when he had previously studied these concerns in 1980-1981, he concluded that there is a potential risk making it a good idea to keep high-voltage transmission lines away from populated areas. "It still makes sense now," Dr. Kaufman said.

Yvonne Nanasi of West Stewartstown, the North County field service representative for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, suggested that the federal Section 106 regulations could assist residents in understanding what historic resources might be adversely affected by the proposed line.

A Preservation workshop is scheduled from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 6, at St. Mark's Church in Groveton.

A woman from the most rural and least affluent section of Virginia, Donna DeFlumeri, said that the lack of proper grounding of a transmission tower, in that state, had sent a fireball through her home, causing extensive damage, including to the health of her children.

Local farming activist Julie Moran of Colebrook said that it would take many hearts, heads, and hands to work effectively to block the transmission line. Since it "would take away everything we're trying to do," she said that making the time to fight it was essential.

Attorney Baker explained that the proposed line has already put the area "under a pall of uncertainty and that real estate values have undoubtedly gone down."

The proposed towers are "monstrosities," said Michael Krak of Whitefield, adding, "If we stick together we can defeat this."

Varney Smith
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