By GARRY RAYNO
CONCORD — State regulators were critical of work done by a tourism expert hired by Northern Pass Transmission project developer Eversource who concluded the proposal would have no measurable impact on the state’s tourism industry.
Mitch Nichols of Nichols Tourism Group of Bellingham, Wash., found visitors come to New Hampshire because of the diversity of experiences, the ease of access and its affordability, while traffic delays from project construction and visual changes do not drive travel decisions.
Several Site Evaluation Committee members Wednesday said Nichols’s report views the transmission project’s effect on tourism statewide or regionally, but fails to acknowledge the negative impact on individual businesses and entities during construction and after the project’s completion.
Other committee members said Nichols was too quick to dismiss the views of those who believe the $1.6 billion, 192-mile transmission line from Pittsburg to Deerfield will hurt tourism.
Nichols said repeatedly during the past two days there is no evidence or studies that transmission lines such as Northern Pass have any effect on tourism.
“In my 20 years of experience, I have not seen a foundation for that position or beliefs,” Nichols said. “All across the country, all across the world, (no one) has demonstrated that kind of impact.”
Christopher Way from the Department of Business and Economic Affairs noted that former travel and tourism director Alice DeSouza and Mark Okrant, the former director of Plymouth State University’s Institute for New Hampshire Studies, whose data Nichols used for his study, both believe Northern Pass will affect tourism.
“You require empirical correlation from those who disagree with your analysis,” said the committee’s legal counsel Michael Iacopino. “Why should the committee not expect the same from you?”
Nichols said he has spent a lot of time trying to find examples of a negative impact but has not.
Over his two days of testimony, Nichols was grilled about the impact of traffic delays on tourism while his report was silent on the issue.
He maintained the traffic delays due to construction are a routine occurrence while traveling today and are not a significant factor in determining if someone will visit the state or return, noting other factors are much more important.
But Way said visitors should never be taken for granted and traffic delays are always a concern and an issue.
“If we really don’t have information on traffic delays,” Way said, “that is going to be a hard piece for us.”
He said with today’s social media, some people like himself, constantly check their cell phones to see if there are delays and try to find alternative routes.
Nichols said the project’s developers are working to mitigate those delays when they know construction will increase the problem. “Some disruption will not cause visitors not to come and visit New Hampshire,” Nichols said. “They may choose a different restaurant three miles down the road.”
But Way said there is a tipping point when people decide the delays are too inconvenient and will not come to the state or will not return.
And he said while the overall impact may be small if someone goes to another restaurant three miles down the road, the restaurant losing the business because of the delays experiences a significant impact.
Committee member William Oldenburg, Assistant Director of Project Development for the Department of Transportation, noted there are 25 inns or hotels along a 50-mile underground section of the line and 27 eating establishments.
Your report indicates if a traffic delay causes someone to go 20 miles away and spend their money, it is a wash because that is money spent within the region, he said.
“If all 25 businesses go out of business, that would be devastating to those communities,” Oldenburg said, and Nichols agreed it would have an impact on the region.
But he said he does not believe that 50 businesses will shut down due to the project. “Those visitors are going to come even if they face some traffic delays.”
But when pressed by Way, Nichols acknowledged he could not really say whether businesses would close.
Way was also critical of Nichols for not meeting with representatives from the Parks and Trails division, for not engaging a broader array of representatives from different tourism segments during listening sessions around the state and for a survey of prospective visitors that he said “did not ring true.”
Other committee members also took issue with the survey saying it used a small sample and did not support some of Nichols’ findings.
Nichols said the survey was sufficient to produce an accurate representation of opinions and argued the findings were consistent with those in the project’s draft Environmental Impact Statement, Institute for New Hampshire Studies data and his own observations over 20 years.
Hearings on the 1,090 megawatt transmission project to bring Hydro-Quebec electricity to New England continue Friday, while a public comment period will be held Thursday.
The developers hope to complete permitting this year with the line operating in 2020.
Garry Rayno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
InDepthNH.org’s comprehensive coverage of the SEC hearings on Northern Pass.
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: Speaking Out For and Against Northern Pass From Connecticut to Concord
June 16: Day 17: Forest Society Presses Environmental Benefits of Burying Northern Pass, Yale Responds To Critics About Land Leased To Northern Pass
June 21: Northern Pass Wants Controversial Yale-Bayroot Lease Kept Confidential
June 20: Day 18: Intervenors: Northern Pass Experts Failed To Identify All Impacted Wetlands
June 22: Day 19: Northern Pass Opponents Dominate SEC Hearing
June 23: Day 20: Northern Pass Seeks 15 More Hearing Days For Total of 57
June 26: Day 21: SEC Members Quiz Northern Pass Experts On Wetland Protection
July 18: Day 22: Northern Pass Expert: Project Wouldn’t Hurt Tourism
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