Sen. Shaheen listens to Northern Pass line opponents



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Senator Jeanne Shaheen, left, who serves on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, met on Friday afternoon to hear the views of opponents to the proposed Northern Pass Transmission project, including ACT executive director Rebecca Brown of Sugar Hill and realtor Peter Powell of Lancaster. Edith Tucker. (click for larger version)
March 03, 2011
LANCASTER — Senator Jeanne Shaheen met at a private meeting on Friday afternoon with 30 opponents of the proposed 1,200- megawatt High-Voltage Direct Current Northern Pass Transmission line.

She listened carefully and took notes on the several arguments against the $1.1 billion project, that is a partnership project of Northeast Utilities, NStar, and Hydro Quebec to bring nearly carbon-free electricity to New England, primarily from the dams and reservoirs of Quebec.

"We're at the beginning of a long environmental review and regulatory process," Shaheen said. "I want to be sure that that process is thorough, transparent, and fair."

She noted that she had been successful in getting a sixth public Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) hearing scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m. on March 18 at the senior center in Plymouth. In an earlier press release, Shaheen had said, "The citizens of our state have many unanswered questions and many concerns about this project, and their voices should be heard," Shaheen said. "An exhaustive and fair environmental review process is mandated by law, and I intend to see that process is followed."

Northern Pass was always willing to have as many EIS scoping meetings as the Department of Energy (DOE) requested.

Shaheen wrote in a separate letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu that she is "deeply troubled" that DOE had selected Normandeau Associates to perform an objective assessment of the proposed project while it also provides both state and federal agencies with data and permit applications to secure those agencies' approval, plus supplying expert testimony to the state Site Evaluation Committee (SEC).

At Friday's hour-plus-long meeting, Shaheen asked the representatives of the environmental and conservation communities, real estate interests, and Cos community spokesmen to give her their several perspectives on the project.

Executive director Rebecca Brown of Sugar Hill of the Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust (ACT) said that Northern Pass would affect 10 of the towns in which ACT works and its members are overwhelmingly opposed. Northern Pass "is yesterday's technology trying to answer tomorrow's questions," Brown explained.

How best to bring green, carbon-free renewable electricity from remote rural areas to urban centers is a national issue, she said. "This is one of the most important issues in our lifetime," Brown said. The issue is similar to the conditions that gave rise to the passage of the Weeks Act of 1911 authorizing national forests to be created east of the Mississippi River.

Realtor Peter Powell of Lancaster said that Northern Pass has already "stigmatized" area properties and compromised property values that ultimately will lead to abatements being granted to depreciated properties.

"Short-term gains will be replaced by long-term losses," Powell said.

Forest Society policy director Will Abbott of Holderness called the proposed line a "scar on the landscape" that could destroy the region's "sense of place" by creating a 180-mile-long corridor of transmission towers. Discussion touched on the mid-80s when Hillsborough was identified as a potential permanent nuclear-waste dumpsite, and the town's battle against it.

Shaheen recalled the major battle in 1971 against the siting of a new oil refinery on the Seacoast.

Susan Arnold, the Appalachian Mountain Club's policy director who served for five years as then-Gov. Shaheen's policy director, noted that it would be important to resolve the apparent Normandeau conflict of interest issue before the six scheduled EIS hearings take place.

She also asked her old boss to keep a close eye on the series of steps that would be undertaken in the long, complicated regional and national permitting process that lies ahead for Northern Pass, especially as it relates to the Appalachian Trail (AT) and the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF).

Ten years ago, Arnold and Ken Colburn of NHDES collaborated on data collection for an essay that then-Gov. Shaheen contributed to "Climate Change: Science, Strategies, and Solutions," published in 2001 by the Pew Center for Global Climate Change.

Shaheen then acknowledged that "the threat of global climate change and increasing climate instability is real, that human activities have contributed to this threat, and that the climate is already changing in ways that have profound economic and environmental consequences for all of us."

Former hedge fund and investment manager and Harvard Law School graduate Jim Dannis, who has just become a year-round resident on a 1,500-acre place in Dalton with his wife, Sandy, said that the return on equity from the Northern Pass project leaves plenty of profit margin so that the entire line could be buried. The couple also just had their property professionally appraised to see how it being alternate route would affect its selling price.

The drop was projected in the 50- to 80-percent range. New Hampshire deserves to have a complex and thorough economic and technical study done as part of the EIS process, he said.

UNH Professor of English and Women's Studies Susan Schibanoff of Easton said that she would hate to see a corridor with multiple power lines be developed that would also serve future "green" wind farms in Maine and New Hampshire.

Real estate developer Tom Mullin of the 700-acre Owl's Nest resort in Thornton discussed the adverse effect that Northern Pass would have on the development on which he and his partner have been working for 10 years.

Joel Harrington of The Nature Conservancy addressed environmental concerns. Former selectman Rick Samson of Stewartstown discussed his dismay at New England's seemingly insatiable thirst for power.

"Colebrook Chronicle" owners Donna and Charlie Jordon of Clarksville said that residents in the northern tip of the state are overwhelmingly against Northern Pass. "Some things you just cannot be neutral about, and this is one of them," explained the 32-year-news-veteran.

Christophe Courchesne of the Conservation Law Foundation said he believes the Presidential Permit application is incomplete and that the question must be addressed as to whether a 1,200-megawatt overhead line is in the public interest.

Reps. Evalyn Merrick, Herb Richardson, and Bill Remick, all of Lancaster, were on hand, as well as Dick Harris of Colebrook and Valarie Herres of Lancaster.

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