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Northern Pass opponents urged to get proactive

Orange-clad activists welcomed attendees to last week's Northern Pass Informational Meeting in Plymouth. Pictured: Heather McLean, Bob Tuveson, Gail Beaulieu, Martha Richards, George Wright and some of those ubiquitous “Trees Not Towers” Tees. (Marcia Morris) (click for larger version)
April 06, 2011
PLYMOUTH—As the deadline for public comments on the draft Department of Energy Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) draws near on April 12, opponents of the Northern Pass Electrical Transmission Project are getting into gear for the next round of battles ahead.

At a well attended informational meeting last Thursday evening, held at the Plymouth Regional High School, activists urged opponents of the project to get "proactive" in their efforts.

While the Federal government regulators have largely been the target of the No Pass opposition campaign over the course of the last few months, now that the public hearings on the project have been completed, the focus will likely shift to other fronts where local residents can make a difference.

At last Thursday's meeting, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests' Vice President for Policy and Land Management, Will Abbott, encouraged local residents to let their voice be heard in Concord, by the Governor, in the state legislature, in the upcoming New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee deliberations, and also directly by the large corporations that stand to make a lot of money from the project, including Hydro Quebec, Hartford, Conn.-based Northeast Utilities, NSTAR and Public Service of New Hampshire.

Significantly, it was remarked that Executive Councilor and Grafton County Commissioner Ray Burton last week came out publicly for the first time in unequivocal opposition to the Northern Pass with a letter that went to the DOE, Hydro Quebec and others. The letter circulated widely throughout Grafton County and beyond.

While Gov. John Lynch has no specific legal authority in the federal and state regulatory review process, it was noted that he clearly has "the power of the bully pulpit" that could make a significant impact on deliberations.

Opponents were also urged not to despair of the possibility that the power companies themselves might be swayed by public opinion.

"I think the Northern Pass, as it is currently proposed, is probably the cheapest, easiest way of getting Hydro Quebec's electricity to market," said Abbott. "But there may be reasonable alternatives. I don't think these companies ever expected the kind of grassroots revulsion that the Northern Pass plan has produced. They could be responsive to the objections of so many local residents."

The Northern Pass Project would entail running 180 miles of electrical transmission line on towers standing two or three times the height of most existing power lines, from the Hydro Quebec facility in Canada, through the mountains and lakes region of New Hampshire, for distribution to customers in southern New England.

Depending upon the route that is chosen, the proposed power lines will potentially cut through the White Mountain National Forest, or traverse thousands of acres of forest and conservation lands, detracting from the scenic views that are essential to tourist industry.

"Our landscape is our economy here in New Hampshire," commented Abbott.

Abbott was absolutely clear why the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests has taken such a prominent role in opposing the Northern Pass. In addition to the oft-cited potentially negative economic, health, environmental and conservation consequences, the large scale of the project threatens the sustainability of New Hampshire's federal, state, municipal and privately protected forest lands.

"The Forest Society has a legal obligation to defend the conservation interest in this land," explained Abbott. "It is clear that when the gifts of land were made, the grantors had no intention of allowing that the conservation purposes would be violated by a project like this."

Further, the large-scale hydro power project, which devastated, by flooding, seven million acres in Canada in its creation — a swath of land larger than the entire 5.8 million acres of the State of New Hampshire—poses a very real danger to the nascent local renewable power industry struggling to get off the ground in New England.

The future of sustainable forestry also depends, at least in part, upon the continued growth here in New Hampshire of the market for forest products, including the biomass plants that are liable to be put out of business if the Northern Pass is approved. The project could have a chilling impact on energy investment funding for the emerging market in locally produced renewable power, "freezing out" investment in biomass, micro hydro and other alternatives.

"That is a real concern here in New Hampshire," said Abbott. "From a societal point of view, is this (Northern Pass) project a good investment of $1.1 billion in energy funds? Is it not possible that that money might be better invested elsewhere in the economy?"

In closing, the activists in the audience were congratulated for how far the burgeoning local "No Pass" movement has come in just a matter of the last few months. A recitation of newspaper headlines from around the state was read out loud as a chronicle of the rapidly rising tide of opposition to the Northern Pass project in the region since December.

There will be a great deal of debate in the months and years ahead. In the meantime, local residents were urged to visit the Department of Energy Web site to follow developments, read the comments from the recent public hearing process and all the written correspondence received to date, and finally, to submit any additional remarks before the deadline of April 12. Local residents were specifically encouraged to make sure the DOE is aware of any particular cultural, wildlife, historical or scenic assets along the proposed route that are threatened by the project. Comments can be electronically submitted to Brian Mills at the Department of Energy via electronic mail at Brian.Mills@hq.doe.gov, or call for more information at 202-586-8267.

Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
Alton School
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