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Holderness residents turn out in force against Northern Pass


February 16, 2011
HOLDERNESS — If the standing room only crowd that packed the cafeteria at the Holderness Central School last week for an informational meeting on the Northern Pass project is any indication of the general mood among local residents, it may not be long before Holderness officially joins the fight against the proposed network of towers and transmission lines that would carry 1,200 megawatts of hydropower into New England.

Thanking the audience for attending Thursday night's event, longtime Holderness resident and former county commissioner Martha Richards (who organized the meeting, along with fellow Holderness resident and NH Forest Society Vice President Will Abbott) explained that as a landowner who would see the Northern Pass project pass very close to her own property if it is approved, she was adamantly opposed to it, and wanted to make area residents aware of the project, and of what they can do to fight it.

"I'm in this for the long haul," she said, explaining that the permitting process Northeast Utilities and HydroQuebec (the partners behind the project) are required to go through at both the federal and state level before approval is granted could take up to three years.

During that process, she added, it will be important for those opposed to the project to "keep the momentum up."

"It's a matter of right against might we cannot let this happen," she said, stressing that the project would impact not just the North Country and central New Hampshire, but the entire state.

"We have to hang tough together," she said.

Abbott provided the audience with an overview of the project, a joint venture between HydroQuebec (a company owned and operated by the province of Quebec, Canada that uses hydropower to generate electricity), Northeast Utilities (the parent company of PSNH), and NSTAR that proposes to pipe 1,200 megawatts of renewable energy produced in Quebec to consumers in New England via a 140-mile-long network of direct current transmission lines stretching from the Quebec border in Pittsburg to a converter terminal in Franklin, where the electricity would be switched to alternating current and passed along to a substation in Deerfield for distribution.

Abbott said his chief concern with the project is the fact that it would require the construction of a new 40-mile-long right-of-way that would entail clear cutting roughly 750 acres of wilderness near the Canadian border.

Replacing so much pristine wilderness with a network of power lines strung between towers that could loom anywhere from 90 to 135 feet above the landscape, he said, would create "a scar unlike anything we're used to looking at."

There are, he added, other questions that need to be asked during the permitting process as well, such as whether the Northern Pass project could crowd other local sources of renewable energy out of the marketplace, and whether it could lead to an over-reliance on HydroQuebec — a utility owned and operated by a foreign power — that might end up running counter to the interests of New England rate payers.

While supporters of the Northern Pass project claim that it would provide substantial economic benefit to communities along the 'preferred route' in the form of construction jobs and tax revenue, Abbott said he worries that cost to the natural scenic beauty of the North Country, and to the thriving tourism industry that scenic beauty generates, may ultimately be too high a price to pay for whatever benefits the project might offer.

"If you scar the landscape, well, you're going to scar the economy," he said.

A "clear and present threat"

Speaking to the negative impact the project might have on surrounding property values, Peter Powell, a realtor from Lancaster, cited several studies conducted on real estate values near similar projects which he said found "substantial loss in value" among properties within viewing distance of power lines.

In some cases, he said, the values decreased so dramatically that the homes in question were rendered all but worthless or "not marketable at all."

Explaining that he has already seen properties along the proposed Northern Pass corridor suffer from the "stigmatization" that leads to tumbling values, and has seen the uncertainty surrounding the project affect the decision making process of homeowners who are hesitant to put their properties on the market, Powell said that in his professional opinion, the project represents a "clear and present threat" to the marketability and value of residential properties along the preferred route from Pittsburg to Franklin.

"We come to help"

During a question-and-answer session on technical aspects of the project that followed Powell's presentation, Richards interrupted the proceedings in order to recognize a visitor who had traveled a great distance to show his support — John Amey, whose farm in Pittsburg lies directly along the project's preferred route.

"When you start talking about the Northern Pass, we don't wait to be invited— we come to help," Amey said to a burst of applause from the audience.

Stressing that from his perspective, "this is about New Hampshire," and not simply about his farm, his neighbors, or any one community along the Northern Pass corridor, Amey said he does not object to where the power is going, or where it would come from.

What he objects to, he said, is the idea of New Hampshire — which he said doesn't need the energy — being asked to host the project at the expense of its natural beauty without benefiting from it.

"The answer is 'no!'" he said to another round of applause and rumblings of agreement from the audience. "Not now; not ever!"

Thanking the audience again for attending, Richards encouraged them to contact their town officials, state legislators and the governor's office and begin putting pressure on them to take a public stand against the Northern Pass project.

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