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Northern Pass opponents rally, inform in Littleton

November 22, 2011
LITTLETON — Though the "preferred route" for Northern Pass no longer runs through Littleton, opponents of the project, which would dot the North Country's landscape with 80 to 135-foot-high steel towers, brought their rallying cry to the Community House Annex last week.

Dr. Campbell McLaren of Easton gave a presentation that touched upon a gamut of concerns — including possible health effects — that New Hampshire residents have raised since the project came to light about a year ago. He is part of a loose, though organized, network of people who have pooled their expertise in fields such as accounting, law and health to fight the towers.

Groups such as the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests also have been actively opposing the project, which is currently in the permitting process, with its in-service date changed to 2016 in August.

McLaren reminded the audience that on the federal level, the company needs two permits: the Department of Energy's "Presidential Permit," which requires an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and a U.S. Department of Agriculture special use permit for the transmission line to pass through the White Mountain National Forest.

According to the forest society, the EIS has been held up and the scoping period remains open "indefinitely" due to the uncertainty of where the transmission line will cross into the state from Hydro-Quebec in Canada.

On the state level, the Site Evaluation Committee will have to give its stamp of approval after reviewing the EIS — "they have never said 'no'" to a project, said McLaren. And currently legislators are debating a proposal (HB 648) "that would make clear that eminent domain is not available to transmission projects like Northern Pass," according to the forest society. (Eminent domain falls within the state Public Utilities Commission's sphere.)

Though Northern Pass has proposed a "preferred route," McLaren said it's impossible to know exactly where it will fall, and there may be up to 50 routes available.

"Like a greasy pig at the Fryeburg Fair, you can't catch them," McLaren said.

McLaren also expressed the common fear that approval for this project would open doors for more like it, and the state could end up being the crossroads for similar projects.

"In the future, we're going to be seeing more of them," said McLaren. "We've got to make a stand now."

Property rights also are being explored with opponents encouraging landowners to challenge Northern Pass's attempts to access rights of way through PSNH.

And as for health issues, though no "causation" has been proven between EMFs (Electric and Magnetic Fields) and leukemia in children, McLaren said people can't ignore the "association" that a number of studies during the past three decades have shown. (EMFs are produced by AC and DC lines.)

Though National Cancer Institute studies have shown that higher EMF levels in and around homes does not increase the risk of leukemia, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer says "extremely low-frequency magnetic fields are possibly carcinogenic to humans."

Northern Pass would bring a 140-mile-long 1,200 megawatt DC transmission line down to a converter terminal in Franklin, and from there, a 40-mile-long AC line down to Deerfield's substation — ultimately supplying southern New England with the power. Towns that the "preferred route" would pass through include Whitefield, Dalton, Bethlehem, Sugar Hill, Easton, Lincoln and Woodstock, according to its website.

Northern Pass is a joint venture of NSTAR, a Mass.-based gas and electric utility, and Northeast Utilities, the parent company of Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH). The plan is to use PSNH's rights of way wherever possible and buy up other land in parts of Coos County where no rights of way exist.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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