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Opposition to Northern Pass still strong

Sugar Hill, Easton meetings provide update on project, rally residents to action

November 16, 2011
SUGAR HILL — Sugar Hill and Easton residents proved last week that opposition to Northern Pass is not waning.

Two separate meetings produced a strong showing for an update on where the 180-mile power line project now stands since it was first introduced a year ago, and both had similar messages: continue working to get House Bill 648 passed; keep your representatives posted on how their constituents feel; and "this is a fight we can win."

In short, Northeast Utilities, which owns Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH), has proposed a $1.1 billion project that would carry 1,200 megawatts of hydropower from Quebec to southern New England. The anticipated route for the high-voltage, direct-current transmission lines would cut through the 31 towns, including Whitefield, Bethlehem, Sugar Hill, Easton, Lincoln and Woodstock, and involve building 1,100 90- to 135-foot-high towers along existing rights of way owned by PSNH. The company also is in the process of trying to buy land where rights of way aren't present, and the expected completion date is 2015, according to PSNH's website.

Northern Pass says the project will provide 1,200 jobs "in a variety of fields" for three years during construction, strengthen the region's energy supply with clean energy and generate more than "$25 million in new property taxes."

Opponents say the project will reduce property values, hurt tourism by destroying prized views and even pose health issues. High on their to-do list is seeing that HB 648 gets passed so landowners won't feel threatened into selling their land because they think it can be seized by eminent domain.

After passing the House, the Senate sent HB 648 back to committee this past summer for additional review. It would amend RSA 371:1 and further restrict eminent domain. The RSA already prohibits public utilities from petitioning for "permission to take private land or property rights for the construction or operation of an electric generating plant." HB 648 tacks on, "or a transmission facility so long as the transmission facility is not needed for system reliability." In other words, the state couldn't take land for power lines unless power supplies were unreliable — it couldn't be taken to provide alternative and competitive sources of energy.

Speakers at the Sugar Hill and Easton meetings said landowners were being offered $5,000 to $6,000 per acre, while they would get much, much less if their land was seized through eminent domain.

In Sugar Hill, residents gave themselves a pat on the back last Tuesday evening for keeping opposition to the Northern Pass project at the forefront of everyone's minds by blanketing the town in orange. Orange bows, orange t-shirts, orange "Stop the Towers" signs, orange buttons and orange information cards for visitors have kept the conversation going.

"[It's] giving our town a reputation of 'pains in the necks' and we're not going away," said Judy Weisenberger, a Sugar Hill resident of 32 years.

Nancy Martland, who has been at the forefront of the anti-Northern Pass movement in Sugar Hill and also spoke at Easton's meeting Saturday morning, listed off the town's accomplishments that included a unanimous vote on a warrant article opposing the project last spring.

"This is a fight we can win," Martland said at the beginning of the meeting.

Some residents have also been busy writing letters to the editor, lobbying in Concord, meeting with government officials and researching buried lines being considered for projects in New York and Maine — the Champlain Hudson Power Express and Northeast Energy Link respectively.

"You're fighting [against] much more than just a bunch of ugly towers," said Weisenberger after the meeting, adding that it's about "challenging the information that's out there."

Bob Baker, an attorney, has been wading through reams of legalese having to do with Northern Pass for the past few months and said understanding easement deeds could be an important key in some areas.

"As long as we're making trouble, we may as well make it max," said Baker.

He said he also helped residents in Coos County understand that an effort to buy access to private land for tests and study wasn't a good deal for landowners — "People up there in critical places are saying no."

Easton's meeting consisted of a panel of local authorities for the opposition, including Martland, Neil Irvine and Jim Dannis of Responsible Energy Action LLC, Susan Schibanoff of the Easton Conservation Commission, and Will Abbott, who also spoke at Sugar Hill's meeting. Executive Councilor Ray Burton and Sen. Jeanie Forrester also attended.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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