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Area residents unite against Northern Pass at Plymouth scoping hearing

At the conclusion to his public testimony at the U.S. Department of Energy Environmental Impact Statement Scoping Hearing in Plymouth last week, activist Tom Mullen joined local singer/songwriter Katie Rose in a musical plea for help to protect the Northern Forest in New Hampshire from the impacts of the proposed Northern Pass electrical transmission project. Whitefield native Rose's original song, “Live Free or Die,” written in opposition to the Northern Pass project, can be viewed on YouTube by searching by name. (Marcia Morris) (click for larger version)
March 23, 2011
PLYMOUTH—There was not one voice raised in support of the proposed Northern Pass electrical transmission line project in Plymouth last week, as the Department of Energy held a series of public "scoping" hearings across the region for feedback on the potential environmental impacts of the project.

More than 60 local residents, from Wentworth to Campton to New Hampton, took to the microphone offering testimony at Plymouth State University's Hanaway Theater at the Silver Center for the Arts during a four-hour public hearing last Friday evening, March 18.

The 650-seat auditorium was filled to capacity with a tidal wave of opponents to the project, donning phosphorescent orange ""Trees Not Towers" T-Shirts, headbands, arm bands, vests and hats in protest.

The Department of Energy's Brian Mills opened the hearing by explaining that Northern Pass Transmission, LLC had applied for a Presidential Permit to bring a 1,200-megawatt high voltage direct current power line from the Hydro Quebec facility across the Canadian border at Pittsburg, 140 miles through New Hampshire to a converter facility to be built in Franklin.

As part of that permitting process, the DOE was seeking public input, in writing or by testimony at any one of the seven public scoping hearings taking place across central and northern New Hampshire last week.

Mills explained that the DOE was accepting comments in preparation of a draft Environmental Impact Statement required by the National Environmental Policy Act. He also said that the DOE had no authority relative to the siting of the line, but only with respect to the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Presidential Permit process.

The state of New Hampshire exercises authority over the proposed route.

The public comment period for the EIS will be open until April 12, and comments may be emailed to Brian.Mills@hq.doe.gov, or mailed to the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, U.S. D.O.E, 1000 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, D.C., 20585. Public records on the project can be found at the Web site www.northernpasseis.us.

Representatives of the Town of Plymouth and the Town of Holderness conveyed their official opposition.

Select Board member Shelagh Connelly testified that residents of the Town of Holderness had recently voted unanimously, 129 to 0, to oppose the project at the 2011 Annual Town Meeting, and the Select Board has registered its opposition in a unanimous vote against the project at the latest meeting.

The Plymouth Board of Selectmen has also gone on record as unanimously opposed.

Town Counsel, Attorney John Ratigan, was first up to testify, reporting that the Board of Selectmen in Plymouth was "uncompromisingly opposed" to the western, alternate route for the transmission lines. "The Board has received more constituent response on this issue than any other in many, many years," said Ratigan. "The visual, economic and environmental impact of the route would tremendously impact the Town of Plymouth."

New Hampshire State Sen. Jeanie Forrester testified that she has not heard from a single constituent who was in favor of the project. Forrester promised to do everything she could to oppose the project.

Plymouth Town Planner Sharon Penney and Plymouth Conservation Commission Chair Dominick Marocco also spoke out against the project, pointing out that the proposed alternate route ran right along a New Hampshire Scenic Highway on Old Hebron Road and immediately adjacent to all of the town's valuable conservation properties on Plymouth Mountain and the Fauver Trail.

"It would pass through some of the highest ranked habitats we have," said Marocco. "A more environmentally destructive path for the line could not possibly have been devised."

Opponents of the project cited a multitude of objections, from concern about potential human health impacts from the power lines themselves to the use of herbicides and pesticides to keep the proposed line clear of vegetation, to the erosion control issues raised by cutting trees for the line.

A number of economic concerns were also raised by abutters to the proposed route and real estate professionals like Darlene King Jennings, who felt that their property values would be drastically reduced if the project were to be built.

Small business owners joined the chorus of opposition, as well, saying they feared that the 80-to-135-foot towers running through the North Country and the While Mountain National Forest would severely disrupt the tourism industry throughout the state—the backbone of the local economy.

A number of participants asked the DOE to consider the merit of requiring that the proposed transmission line be submerged, possibly in existing rights of way, to avoid the taking of private property by eminent domain for the project, and to minimize the health risks and visual impact of the project.

Notably, Plymouth businessman Steve Rand was one of the outspoken proponents of studying the line submersion option. He cited the example of the Champlain Hudson River Express, a 355-mile electrical transmission project proposed to be built underground, and in some places underwater, at a per linear mile cost not much greater than the estimated costs of the Northern Pass.

"We should at least study the heck out of it," said Rand.

Grafton County Commissioner Omer Ahern, Jr. was one of the local residents who testified that the Northern Pass electrical line would additionally have the likely effect of putting much of the locally produced micro-hydro and biomass generation capacity out of business. New Hampshire is a net producer of electricity. The power coming through the Northern Pass is expected to provide power to southern New England, not New Hampshire.

Speaking as a fourth generation land owner and tree farmer, Ahern asked that DOE officials consider establishing a fund to reimburse New Hampshire landowners who will be negatively impacted by the Northern Pass project.

"We all need to stick together if we are going to overcome this challenge," said Ahern. "This project will ruin our great Granite State and adversely affect landowners in New Hampshire."

Democratic political activist and Holderness resident Martha Richards received a standing ovation after giving emotional testimony in opposition to the Northern Pass.

"Opposition to this project has galvanized New Hampshire citizens like nothing I have ever seen before," said Richards. "We don't want it, and it is not in the best interest of our state. We all have a passion to protect our beautiful state, and we are united in our efforts to stop this misguided and freed-filled project. It is just wrong for New Hampshire."

Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
Alton School
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