CONCORD — Northern Pass’ environmental impacts will take center stage again Tuesday and Friday as the adjudicative hearings continue in front of the state Site Evaluation Committee that will decide whether to approve or deny the project’s application by the end of September.
Attorney Amy Manzelli pressed the project’s environmental panel on Friday about the benefits if the 192-mile transmission line from Pittsburg to Deerfield were completely buried. Sixty miles are buried in the final design of the controversial high-voltage transmission line that would bring electricity from Hydro-Quebec through New Hampshire to the New England grid.
Manzelli, representing the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, insisted the negative impacts on wetlands would be ten times worse with the plan as proposed than if the line were to be completely buried.
And attorney Doreen Connor, representing the Counsel for the Public, questioned the panel about how endangered species will be protected especially during construction.
“You would agree with me this project would have an adverse impact on wetlands, right?” Manzelli asked Lee Carbonneau, one of Northern Pass’ experts and senior principal scientist with Normandeau Associates, the company hired by the project.
Carbonneau: “Yes the project has some impacts to wetlands and I would consider them to be adverse.”
Manzelli: “The question would be whether the adverse impacts would be reasonable or unreasonable and your opinion is that the adverse impacts would be reasonable. Is that a fair statement?”
Manzelli asked Carbonneau if she did any wetlands assessment on any alternatives that would have completely buried the transmission line. Carbonneau said she had not.
She did say she looked at two representative portions of I-93 right of way, one of which was in Canterbury and the other farther north.
Manzelli pointed out that the total amount of wetlands impact was more than 6 million square feet and said there are laydown areas, places where construction equipment can be stored, to consider. One in Clarksville is about five acres and two in Millsfield – one of which is an acre and the other an acre and a half.
According to previous testimony from the construction panel, 10 to 20 more laydown areas are needed, Manzelli said.
Project Fact sheet
Northern Pass has a mitigation plan that said the project will strengthen New Hampshire’s conservation efforts, according to a project fact sheet.
“Working with various agencies, and in accordance with state and federal law, Northern Pass has dedicated 1,627 acres of approved land for wetland mitigation – exceeding the state and federal requirements for wetland mitigation the project must meet,” according to the fact sheet.
It also said the project will improve air quality, public health and the environment, and help address climate change by reducing pollutants such as NOx, SO2, and CO2 emissions.
Manzelli asked if the Site Evaluation Committee approves the project and more impacts are discovered, would the project have to return to the SEC or just to the Department of Environmental Services for approval.
Carbonneau said it would be easier for a small change in impact area if it did not need to go back to the SEC. She also said the committee has a tremendous amount of information about the wetlands impact.
Manzelli said burying the lines along a Route 3 alternative would avoid most of the significant wetlands and wildlife impact in Coos County.
“Therefore the Department of Environmental Services review found that this portion of the project would not avoid and minimize wetland impacts to the greatest extent practicable,” Manzelli said.
Route 3 from north to south runs almost the entire length of the state. “Did anyone at DOT tell you Route 3 was not available?” Manzelli asked. Carbonneau said no.
“The Department of Environmental Services specifically told you to look at Route 3 alternative and you refused,” Manzelli said.
Carbonneau said DES requested additional information and in a follow-up email the legal team clarified that they were looking for additional information as to why that route was not selected. That information was provided to DES and they were satisfied with the response, Carbonneau said.
Manzelli pressed the question: “…DES told you to look at Route three and you refused…., right?”
Carbonneau: “We did not show that as an alternative.”
The U.S. Department of Energy also concluded that the project as currently proposed is not the least impacting alternative, Manzelli said.
The DOE analysis showed the project as currently proposed would have 95 acres of wetlands impact, Manzelli said, and the buried alternative would have 10 acres impacted.
Carbonneau disagreed with the way the numbers were calculated. She also said the underground route through the Route 3 corridor in the northern section of project had been identified as not being practicable.
The word practicability includes other issues and logistics such as cost and other things, Carbonneau said, and she was told by Northern Pass that the cost would be prohibitive. Asked to identify who told her the, Carbonneau said: “This was discussed many times in multiple meetings.”
Doreen Connor, representing the Counsel for the Public, directed questions to Dr. Sarah Barnum on the project’s environmental panel, showing photos at first of snakes and turtles and asking how they would be protected.
Connor projected a photo of the Eastern Hognose snake and asked Barnum if it was on the state endangered list.
“That’s correct,” Barnum said. She said she didn’t know how many are left in New Hampshire.
Connor showed a photo of the Northern Black Racer and asked if it was on the list of those that are threatened and Barnum said yes.
Barnum said the Northern Black Racer is likely to be more impacted by the route than the Hognose because a greater part of its habitat coincides with the route.
The Hognose habitat is more limited, Barnum said, with the project right of way in Concord known to be one of its preferred habitats.
Their habitat will mostly be impacted during construction, Barnum said.
Barnum said construction workers will be trained to identify the endangered species and they would then contact an environmental monitor to determine what to do if they came across one.
When asked how many environmental monitors will be working on the project, she said it would depend on the size of the site.
The environmental panel is expected to be questioned further on Tuesday and Friday. On Thursday, people who are not intervenors in the process will have a chance to offer their opinions on Northern Pass to the committee. Each person will be allowed three minutes to speak. The hearings are held at 49 Donovan St. in Concord.
InDepthNH.org’s previous stories about the SEC hearings.
April 13, Day 1: Eversource NH Chief Quinlan On The Hot Seat At Northern Pass Hearing
April 14, Day 2: Eversource Chief Questioned About ‘Clean’ Energy Claims And Northern Pass Costs
April 17: Day 3: Eversource: Hydro-Quebec Revenues Could Fall Short In Northern Pass’ First Year
April 18: Day 4: Northern Pass’ Potential Health Concerns Debated At Hearing
April 19: Day 5: Concerns Raised About Northern Pass Affecting Health of Sherburne Woods Residents in Deerfield
April 30: Is NH Getting ‘Hoodwinked’ on Health and Safety By Northern Pass?
May 1: Day 6: Testimony: 44 New Access Roads Needed To Build 192-Mile Northern Pass in NH
May 2: Day 7: Northern Pass Expert: 3 Months of Construction Likely In Downtown Plymouth
May 3: Day 8: Project Official: Northern Pass Construction Limited To 7 am to 7 pm, Noise Assessed Daily
May 3: Eversource’s Chief Quinlan Listed as ‘Host’ For Sununu Fundraiser
May 4: Day 9: Grafton County Attorney Grills Northern Pass Experts On Land Buys
May 5: Day 9, story 2: Common Man’s Alex Ray: Northern Pass Disruption in Plymouth Would Be ‘Fatal’ To Business
May 8: Forest Society Calls Northern Pass Inflated Land Buys a ‘Shell Game’
May 25: Hydro-Quebec Explores Opportunities in New England, New York
May 31: InDepthNH.org, NHPR Talk Northern Pass With John Dankosky
May 31: Day 10: ‘Frac-Out’ Water Pollution Possible When Drilling To Bury Northern Pass
June 1: Day 11: Applicant: Northern Pass Would Mitigate Impact On Endangered State Butterfly
June 8: Day 12: Counsel for the Public: Northern Pass Financial Expert’s Perspective ‘Unnaturally Optimistic’
June 9: Day 13: Portions of Northern Pass Hearings Held In Closed Session, Again
June 12: Public Statement Hearings On Northern Pass Begin June 15
June 13: Day 14: Analyst: Customer Using 300 kw Would Save $1.50 a Month With Northern Pass
June 14: Day 15: Regulator: Committee Could Consider Conditioning Approval for Northern Pass
June 15: Day 16 below:
For more information about InDepthNH.org, which is published online by the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism, contact Nancy West at email@example.com or call 603-738-5635